Stephen Elliott: Promotion and cup double a realistic aim for in-form Sunderland as optimism raised on Wearside
As far as weeks go this past one hasn’t been too bad, has it?
It’s definitely been one of the most positive in Sunderland’s, well, recent history – have we finally seen a turning point?
The arrival of Kyril Louis-Dreyfus has certainly got the fans excited and it would seem the team are also thriving on this new positivity.
After putting Doncaster to the sword quite comfortably last weekend, Sunderland saw off Lincoln to give themselves another Wembley venture. An away trip to bogey team Burton Albion presented the opportunity to finish the week off with a real bang.
Despite the league standings, Burton have had a big turnaround of form under new manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, so this appeared to be another tricky trip to the Pirelli, and Lee Johnson had subsequently said he was worried about it.
Due to injuries, the manager surprisingly sprung a 3-4-3 formation for Saturday’s game.
However, if anyone doubted how the team would fare in this formation, that question was swiftly answered after just five minutes.
Midweek spot-kick hero, Grant Leadbitter, got the team off to a flying start, once again showing great composure to slot home from the edge of the box after some quick thinking from Aiden McGeady. Phil Parkinson must be looking on pondering.
It set the tone for the game and gave Sunderland real impetus to control the opening periods. It was no surprise at all to then see Lynden Gooch fire home the second 25 minutes later, giving Sunderland a deserved two goal cushion at half time.
The beauty of getting out of the blocks so quickly on Saturday, was that it enabled Johnson the chance to make early changes in the second half. This will hopefully preserve a freshness within the squad by giving rest time to some, while simultaneously giving others valuable minutes from the bench.
Again, Jordon Jones came on and looked sharp as a tack.
He showed us what he can do by teeing up Charlie Wyke for his (inevitable) goal. Wyke, again, impressed and will probably be gutted he didn’t get a couple. I think the fact his early miss didn’t affect him when he went through on goal showed exactly where his self belief is at the moment.
I said in last week’s column that I felt something has changed in this squad for the better, and after everything I have seen since then, both on and off the pitch, I feel even more confident that some good times are coming back.
The apparent ease of Saturday’s victory was hugely comforting.
The formula of this league means the games are coming thick and fast. This newly found confidence will mean that the players will be looking at the teams above them in the division and genuinely believing they can catch them. I think that they can too, but there will be little room for error.
Currently, there seems a real togetherness in the squad, management staff included, and that will be huge going into the next 18 games. The Football League Trophy and promotion double has to be the aim now.
I don’t want to get too carried away, but the form of the team makes you think it would be a brave man to bet against this happening.