David Preece: Josh Maja is my favourite player – but we must find a place for Jerome Sinclair

Jerome Sinclair came off the bench against Fleetwood.
Jerome Sinclair came off the bench against Fleetwood.
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Last weekend’s game against Joey Barton’s Fleetwood Town was the first real test of the season and one that in my eyes, Sunderland successfully negotiated.

Reality has sunk in and the acceptance of our position will benefit us in the end.

Without naming names, I have seen the supporters of clubs who have been relegated hanging on to the belief they have been served an injustice and their position is somehow false.

What that leads to is a toxic atmosphere where every point is expected and every time the team stumble they are jumped on and kicked. Gladly, that isn’t the case here.

We don’t see ourselves as a Championship club playing in League 1, but a League 1 club trying to get out of it like anyone else, and that’s the healthiest way to approach it.

Someone made a great point to me before the Checkatrade Trophy game against Stoke City’s U21s and it really hit home that I’d been approaching the club’s demise from the wrong angle, especially when still in the Premier League.

“I’m not bothered about seeing Eden Hazard or Paul Pogba.” he said. “I want to see my team and I’m not bothered who it’s against.

“Me and my mates used to trudge straight home after games and be glad to get home.

“Now, we stop of for a couple of pints on the way and talk about the game. That’s just as enjoyable as watching the game itself.”

And it’s true. Whenever someone would ask about how Sunderland had played, rather just say they were awful, I’d compensate by saying that I only came to watch the opposition.

But the fella I spoke to was right. It’s much more satisfying discussing what your own team has done well and what they can improve on, rather than just talking about how rubbish they were and how good the other side’s players were.

The Fleetwood game gave us so much to think about it makes you wish we hadn’t clung on to bottom rung of the Premier League ladder for so long.

I was impressed with Joey Barton’s side in the first 30 minutes. They pressed with a real intensity and the pairing of Madden and Evans up front caused endless problems with their intelligent movement.

Of course the added ingredient of Joey Barton spiced things up and I was genuinely interested to see how he would fare and first impressions were good.

I’d disagree with his assessment that his side deserved to win and were the better side, but I can see his side being in the play-off places come the season’s end at the very least.

Conceding first is something that will need to be addressed, but the penalty incident apart, Sunderland’s response, particularly in the second half was positive and shows character.

Jack Baldwin gets better with every game, Denver Hume impressed again and Josh Maja continues to become my favourite player this season.

Maja is so reliable in his build-up play, making him so important to the side. But the one player who can and will make the difference if we can keep him fit is Jerome Sinclair.

In the fleeting appearances we have seen him, his pace and movement behind Maja, when he is dropping deep, gives us a threat we just don’t have without him and fitness permitting, Jack Ross really does need to find a place for him.

And as for that penalty, I was absolutely flabbergasted when Rob Mason told me it was the first one saved at home by a Sunderland keeper for 29 years.

I didn’t need to question the fact because if anyone would know something like this, it would be Rob.

As surprised as I was by his bit of trivia, I was as equally pleased when he told me it was Tony Norman, who last saved one against Chelsea in 1989.

Now that the record had stood so long I felt a little sad that it had been taken from Tony.

I can’t imagine there is another club that has went longer without saving a penalty at home, but from Tony’s perspective, it would have been nice to hold on to it.

I’ll leave this column here for now, as I don’t have enough space to talk about Tony Norman and give it the justice it deserves, so I’ll save it for another time.

Anyway, I’ll have to check with my editor to see if I can include a story about the time a female police officer visited him in the dressing room, much to his embarrassment. To be continued ...