If anything sums up just how much the mood has changed around Sunderland AFC it was the reaction to last Saturday’s performance.
People were genuinely surprised that we played badly. Even this time last year, with the season not even halfway through, limp displays at home had become the norm.
While us fans aren’t going into games with a sense of entitlement now, there’s an expectation that the team will give their all.
You can’t blame supporters for thinking that either, given our start to the season and that’s exactly why there hasn’t been much of an uproar in the aftermath of the 1-1 draw against Wycombe Wanderers. The players and management have built up plenty of credit with us, so a bad day at the office is forgiveable.
Would we have been so forgiving had Josh Maja not rescued us a point? Probably not, but the fact that the introduction of the top scorer had such a positive effect makes Jack Ross’ team selection against Walsall a whole lot easier.
After an ineffective display from Jerome Sinclair, Maja showed the Stadium of Light crowd exactly why he’s drawing the attention of Premier League clubs.
By pulling defenders all over the pitch, controlling the ball as if he’d put a spell on it and taking his goal with such assurance, the striker emphasised that he should always be starting when fully fit.
The same goes for the player who took to the field at the same time as Maja, Max Power. Although suspensions have seen his time limited, Power’s second-half cameo was another display of his all-round ability.
None of the Sunderland midfielders bring what Power does in one package, with his tenacity, range of passing and eye for goal. It’s not that the likes of George Honeyman, Lee Cattermole and Dylan McGeouch aren’t capable of doing any of that, it’s that none of them are as well rounded as Power while also being so good.
Like Maja, Power must start at The Bescot Stadium.
Sunderland need to start on the front foot on Saturday and a line-up that includes the two men who vastly improved the side in the second half last week gives us the best chance of doing that.
Despite our stumble against Wycombe, we’re still top of the form table. Walsall, meanwhile, sit third-bottom on current form, making this a great opportunity to right the wrongs of the previous game.
The division’s top scorer, with the skill of McGeady, Maguire and Gooch behind him, is enough to frighten any team in League One, let alone a one that’s lost four games in their last six.
The aforementioned attacking midfield trio may have been nullified in their last outing but I bet they’re itching to put that right against The Saddlers.
So let’s make sure our last match was nothing more than a reminder of how tough this league is at times. Use it to keep the winning mentality going by showing this division that we won’t be derailed.
In the past, it was normal for Sunderland to follow a poor performance with an even worse one and it wasn’t a shock. Now though, I’m confident that they will right their wrongs.