Gary Rowell: Sunderland need to rediscover winning habit ahead of difficult Norwich City test

Lee Cattermole goes close against Derby County.
Lee Cattermole goes close against Derby County.
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The Sunderland players have two games this week in the cup and league, the first of many midweek games this season that will stretch Simon Grayson’s thin squad to its limits.

First up is the trip to Bury in the League Cup, where I expect Grayson will select a number of fringe players so it could well be an opportunity for the youngsters to see what they are made of.

Ha'way Back When in association with John Hogg Funeral Directors

Ha'way Back When in association with John Hogg Funeral Directors

For a team not used to winning, this is a great opportunity to rediscover that winning habit and I would much rather go to Carrow Road to face Norwich City on the back of a cup win than an embarrassing early exit.

The Norwich game will be another tough one and I would be very surprised if the Canaries are not, at least, in the play-off places come the end of the season.

They salvaged a point in their first game at Fulham with a late equaliser, but that will set them up nicely for their first home game and though Carrow Road isn’t the biggest of grounds, it is usually packed with a good atmosphere.

I will be interested to see what system Grayson uses on Sunday, in particular, whether he continues with two strikers as he did against Derby County or takes a more pragmatic approach by reinforcing the midfield with just one up front.

The last time Sunderland played at Carrow Road was a huge game under Sam Allardyce and ended in a vital 3-0 win that signalled the end for Norwich who were eventually relegated from the Premier League, while Sunderland escaped in sensational style, only, as we are all well aware now, to totally waste it by going down the season after.

The incident I remember clearly from that game was Big Sam going toe-to-toe with a couple of Norwich players when DeAndre Yedlin had been sent hurtling into the advertising hoardings.

Sam’s aggression, defiance and refusal to back down was transferred to the pitch as the players fought magnificently to earn a crucial three points.

What we would give for a similar scoreline on Sunday, to kick-start our season, but the players must show nothing less than the same appetite for hard work that they did against Derby County in a game that will be one of the most difficult of the season.

H Only two clubs had a higher attendance than Sunderland over the Championship’s first weekend, and then very marginally.

But if you listen to some of the so-called experts you would have thought there was only 3,000 at the Stadium of Light rather than just under 30,000 that actually were there and created a great atmosphere.

After years of stretching the fans’ patience to its limits and all the negative publicity leading up to the game, the gate was a bit higher than a lot of people I was talking to before the game actually expected.

Yes, we have lost about 10,000 fans but after everything that has happened, what do people expect and there are loads of clubs that would love a hardcore of 30,000 in the most testing of times.

Nobody loves to see a full and rocking Stadium of Light more than me, but it is up to the club and team now to win back the fans they have alienated, but in the meantime, we will still be one of the best supported teams in the country with fans to be proud of.