Chris Young: Do Sunderland need to treat this season like a newly-promoted side?

Nyron Nosworthy celebrates promotion in 2007
Nyron Nosworthy celebrates promotion in 2007
0
Have your say

Those of a glass-half-full mentality had a valid argument when the pitchforks and torches were being dusted off after the opening two games of the season.

For all Sunderland look to be descending down that familiar route towards another relegation scrap, the club’s longest stay in the top flight since the 1950s continues.

After nine years rubbing shoulders with the elite in the Premier League, it’s difficult to accept Sunderland being in the same position as a Bournemouth, Watford or Norwich

If Sunderland can survive this season, they will have been a Premier League fixture for a decade.

That’s a decade which has included five successive derby wins, a Capital One Cup final, victories at Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford and White Hart Lane, plus the drama of three near miraculous escapes from the drop.

But do the Black Cats now have to wipe the slate clean?

Do supporters, players and staff have to adopt the mentality of a newly-promoted club and see this season as a pistols-at-dawn shoot-out to beat the drop?

After nine years rubbing shoulders with the elite in the Premier League, it’s difficult to accept Sunderland being in the same position as a Bournemouth, Watford or Norwich.

But Sunderland’s progress has been so minimal over that time-frame (if anything, they’ve regressed in the last four years) that perhaps there needs to be an element of starting again under Dick Advocaat after a summer when the club finally look like they’ve made a few astute additions.

Sunderland don’t have the leeway of a Southampton or Swansea, who were able to overhaul the whole structure of their clubs in the lower leagues and ultimately reap those rewards in the long haul.

Unless Sunderland are going to spend years in the wilderness – where there is no guarantee of eventual success – they are going to have to take their baby steps while already in the Premier League, and that is a high-stakes feat.

Everyone on Wearside feels the pressure of remaining in the Premier League, particularly with the new television deal from next season. Sunderland’s accounts would go from red to black in an instant with the extra revenue from Sky, BT and their international broadcasting cronies.

Newly-promoted teams don’t have that financial win-or-bust scenario hanging over their heads quite so prominently. There is a realisation from the off that they could be instantly heading back to the Championship.

That can be a big advantage.

There is an intense hunger from newly-promoted sides and a willingness to scrap and battle for every single point.

Just think back. While there were plenty of eye-catching moments in Roy Keane’s promotion-winning campaign, the first year in the Premier League was far more of a grind.

Supporters inescapably go to games with a different mentality too.

No home encounter is seen as a three-point banker and that lack of expectation transcends into a more positive atmosphere, than when tension sets in after proceedings don’t go as planned against one of the lesser lights.

For example, Advocaat privately marvelled at how the Stadium of Light stuck with the side in the second half against Swansea, despite falling behind seconds before the interval.

It was a game everyone expected Sunderland to lose after the shambolic defeats against Leicester and Norwich, yet they ended up putting their first point of the season on the board.

Make no mistake, every point is going to be precious for Sunderland this season too.

Despite three much-needed signings in the final week of the window, there remains the question mark over whether sufficient funds were invested to overhaul a squad that endured a third successive near-brush with the drop last season.

Those who have arrived appear to be a healthy upgrade on their predecessors, but Sunderland still look alarmingly brittle defensively.

Advocaat is going to need all of his vast experience to generate some cohesion and plug the gaps that have appeared regularly at the back during the season’s opening skirmishes.

But in Advocaat, Sunderland have finally appointed a head coach who enjoys a healthy relationship with both sporting director Lee Congerton and chairman Ellis Short.

This has to be seen as a fresh beginning.

Forget the blundering of the last few seasons, Sunderland are starting from now in their bid to cement a spot as a stable mid-table club, with a manager who has the capabilities to start that process, even if he isn’t around to see it through to fruition.

It’s going to be rocky at the start though. For the moment, Sunderland cannot afford to think they are any better off than the Premier League’s new blood.