Phil Parkinson discusses the growing bond between his Sunderland side and fans and has this key message
The significance of the moment was not lost on Phil Parkinson.
He had been pleased to hear his name chanted in the Roker End, a sign that he had come through an immensely difficult start to life as Sunderland manager.
More important, though, was the wider picture.
The atmosphere inside the Stadium of Light was jubilant as his side pushed for a third goal.
They got it in the end, and could have ended up with more.
Players and supporters are relishing the prospect of playing on home turf, having gathered sixteen points from a possible 18 in 2020.
They have scored fourteen goals in those six games and conceded just once.
After that bleak midwinter, Parkinson believes he is beginning to see his vision begin to take shape.
Energy, high-pressing and ‘locking in attacks’ are deemed essential components and it has made for some eye-catching performances.
“It was absolutely key that we made the Stadium of Light a place that our players embrace and the opposition find it difficult,” Parkinson explained.
“That comes from the way we set out to play, and the supporters are then getting right behind us.
“You can just feel that at the moment and it is great to be a part of it.
“The lads have earned it with that honesty and the work-rate and that has got to stay there.
“I’ve been here for a while now and got to hear more from and speak to supporters more, at functions etc, and I think we’re getting it right at the moment in terms of what the people of Sunderland want in terms of that honesty and effort.
“There’ll be be forgiving when they see them running and closing down like they’re doing.
“The lads have earned that respect and now we’ve got to keep it there.
“I had a clear picture of what kind of team we wanted to get to,” he added.
“Obviously it can be difficult sometimes getting there and when you lose, you expect criticism to come your way as a manager and you’ve got to deal with it.
“My focus was on trying to get the team to play a certain way that I felt the supporters would respond to, and at the moment we’re doing that.
“There’s work to be done but we’re enjoying the journey and it’s going to be an exciting last part of the season.”
Sunderland, of course, stand on the brink of arguably their toughest tests yet.
Their recent results have been terrific but in Fleetwood Town, they face one of the few teams in the division who have been able to match their form of late.
Joey Barton’s side are particularly buoyant after securing a hugely impressive win over Portsmouth at the weekend.
A trip to Coventry City then looms on the horizon and though the Sunderland boss was in a bullish mood before the two crucial games, he is also eager to ensure there is no complacency in the group.
He is encouraged that having felt his side had suffered something of a dip recently, they have quickly returned to the standards that saw them begin to turn around their troubled season near the turn of the year.
“Before the weekend we spoke about, leading into three games in eight days, it being the start of a big week,” he said.
“We’ve ticked one of them off, the next one is Tuesday.
“I feel, importantly, that the lads physically are in a good place and are relishing that side of it.
“A few weeks ago, those physical stats had dipped a little bit and some performances, first half against Doncaster, we said, have we kind of being patting ourselves on the back a little bit? This is where we were, where we are now, and we’ve got to get back to that.
“I think we’ve gone up again and now we’ve reset our standards.
“We’ve got to keep it there.
“I just feel these lads are driving each other on, the standard in training has been different class.”
It is becoming increasingly tight at the top of the table as the crucial period nears, but Sunderland have given themselves a good chance of forcing their way into the top two between now and the end of the season.
Parkinson knows there is a long way to go but feels encouraged that there is a ‘drive’ right across the club to get over the line.
“One thing is for sure, it won’t be for a lack of effort [if they don’t make top two].
“We the staff will give everything, the players will give absolutely everything.
“The supporters, I look at Oxford away, terrible conditions, you could expect some not to come down but we sold out.
“That kind of drive from everyone is what I’m sure will be in place from now until the end of the season.”
Parkinson will have a call to make on the balance of his bench for Fleetwood’s visit, with Joel Lynch back in training as he recovers from a rib injury.
He will compete with recent arrival Tommy Smith, who had been a surprise inclusion for the 3-0 win over Bristol Rovers on Saturday afternoon.
Smith has not played a league game since October but has played an U23 game recently and trained with Ipswich Town during January.