Wise Men Say: The kids are alright, and offer hope for Sunderland's future
Despite a vast improvement in both effort and performance levels over the course of the last three games, Sunderland look set to be relegated to the third tier of English football for only the second time.
It is commonly said that the people of Wearside will forgive your shortcomings if they see a reflection of themselves on the pitch.
Although this is something of a cliché, the reaction of the supporters in the past week or so has proven that there is an element of truth to this statement.
After Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Elland Road left the lads seven points adrift of safety, a chant of ‘Sunderland ‘til I die’ boomed from the away end.
Naturally, there is a frustration that we didn’t show this level of fight and commitment earlier on in the season, but at least we could get relegated with a semblance of momentum and good will behind us.
Another positive to take out of our recent displays has been the influence of the young players. George Honeyman and Lynden Gooch have both stepped up to the plate, with the latter particularly impressing since forcing his way back into the side.
Full-back Donald Love also appears to be growing in confidence and provided the assist for McNair’s opener at Leeds with a deft ball into his former Manchester United team-mate’s path.
At different points throughout the season, Joel Asoro, Josh Maja and Ethan Robson have also enjoyed spells in the team and had varying levels of success.
Asoro has displayed maturity beyond his years with his hold-up play and game intelligence as well as two confidently taken goals against Hull and Middlesbrough.
Maja burst on to the scene with the winner at home to Fulham in December and Robson played an assured role back in January when we beat Hull.
It could be argued that Maja and Robson’s limitations have been exposed over time, but the conditions they have been thrown into are far from ideal.
In a season where countless senior players have failed to step up the plate, the younger members of the team have been thrown under the bus on a regular basis.
There is a school of thought that believes exposure to such a dysfunctional team at such a young age could ruin an inexperienced player for life, however I would take a more optimistic view.
After being thrown in at the deep end, they will be better equipped to deal with the rough and tumble of League One football than they would have been if they had been restricted to occasional sub appearances.
They could all prove to be a godsend to Chris Coleman as he attempts to get Sunderland out of the third tier at the first time of asking.
The Welshman could lose up to 10 of his first-team squad as loanees return to parent clubs and contracts expire.
Therefore, the likes of Honeyman and Gooch will prove invaluable in providing a core of young, hungry players with a point to prove.
This will allow the gaffer to focus on signing players who are proven at League One level and can provide a crucial role in mentoring the more inexperienced members of the squad.
Hopefully, in the midst of all the gloom, this is a glint of light we can all grasp a hold of and, in the long term, we have a team we can be proud to support once more.
* The Wise Men Say podcast is available from every Monday, with SAFC debate from a variety of guests and post-match reaction from Chris Coleman. You can stream it direct from wisemensay.co.uk or subscribe to it on iTunes