How Sunderland 'Til I Die series two will shape our perceptions of the key players in a turbulent campaign

This column arrives a week later than planned.

Wednesday, 1st April 2020, 5:00 pm

The looming arrival of Sunderland ‘Til I Die, through absolutely no fault of its own, inspired a feeling of dread as much as it did excitement.

It took a while to build up the stomach to relive one of the most brutal endings to a season imaginable, even for a club that seems to specialise in them.

And make no mistake, the final two episodes of the new season are utterly agonising.

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The new series tells the story of Sunderland's two Wembley defeats last season

Masterfully done, unquestionably, but painful nonetheless.

Like the first series, Sunderland supporters will no doubt watch with pride as the enduring spirit and loyalty of the fanbase is again beautifully and sympathetically portrayed.

The communal joy and despair is perhaps even more enjoyable to witness on this occasion, with the Championship stadiums swapped for the rather more traditional terraces of Bristol Rovers, AFC Wimbledon and the like.

Even if only for a moment, you’re able to recall the moments of this season where it felt like a story of rebirth and reconnection.

The city itself is also wonderfully presented and particularly in the current climate, it is impossible not to feel a lump in your throat as Seaburn beach and the like unfurl before the eyes of the world, the natural beauty of our corner of the world presented in all its glory.

Neutrals will no doubt be enthralled by the drama of the Josh Maja saga, which dominates the first half of the series, and the frenetic deadline day saga it ultimately sparked.

What will be fascinating is how it shapes the perception of what will be remembered as one of the wildest seasons in Sunderland’s modern history.

That is never summed up better by the fact that we arrive at the opening day of the season having had only a brief moment to nod to the dramas surrounding Didier Ndong, Jack Rodwell, Lee Cattermole and the like that summer.

Most of us with even the slightest association with the club were already utterly exhausted by the time that opening day clash with Charlton kicked off.

What feels most striking is the series closing on a note of optimism, supporters and key figures expressing their hope of a swift and emphatic response to that second Wembley heartbreak.

It’s a nod to the tone and title of the series, melancholy and frustration overridden by eternal optimism.

Yet it also jars given what we know the club was moving into.

A 100-point target, but a summer of inaction that meant it was never going to come into fruition.

The subsequent unravelling of the new regime and the protests that led to a public promise to sell the club.

Will this series do much to change the perception of what has gone wrong on Wearside?

It seems unlikely.

Throughout, Donald is candid in assessing the scale of the financial challenge he has been presented with and towards the end of the series, the need for fresh investment if the club is to realise it’s long-term potential in the modern game.

Towards the end, as (ultimately doomed) talks with Mark Campbell begin, he stresses the limitations of his financial power.

Tellngly, he also predicts that the criticism he is facing could escalate significantly if the season does not end in a successful manner.

The new series will only serve to underline the fact that the outcome of the current talks to sell the club will be what defines the club for the next decade, even over and above the discussions going on to determine how and whether this current campaign will be concluded.

Donald is portrayed by the makers of the series in a fundamentally sympathetic fashion, certainly more so than Methven, as a well-meaning if ultimately unsuccessful chairman.

What it seems certain to underline is that the structure of the club was not conducive to success and twelve months on, with the club seventh in the table, it is hard to argue that things have changed in that regard.

They are visibly outmanoeuvred as Maja’s contract situation escalates and the pursuit of Will Grigg (and a great many other strikers who are not mentioned), is presented as dysfunctional at best.

Manager Jack Ross leaves the Academy of Light frustrated but calm and philosophical as the drama plays out in an Oxfordshire office.

In football, these things tend to be the other way round and it is telling that Ross is a peripheral figure for much of the series.

His approach, calm, methodical, measured, simply does not make for the same TV offered by those above him in the hierarchy.

It grates to see him so regularly chastised in the closing stages of the season by Methven, a sign of the discord and discontent that would do so much to undermine attempts to go again in the current campaign.

It’s that which perhaps stands out most from the six episodes, the way in which the bold ambitions of last season burned out so quickly and so emphatically.

It makes for a challenging and at times difficult watch, though there is more than enough to leave Sunderland fans proud and defiant, just as the first series did.