In the wake of Sunderland’s latest draw at Glanford Park, the first real voices of dissent this season started to make themselves heard.
Such frustrations are understandable, not least because we have failed to take advantage of scoring first in our last three stalemates and we remain outside the automatic promotion places.
However, the mutterings of discontent arguably have much deeper roots than the odd quibble over team selection, substitutions or an unconvincing run of form.
A contributing factor is the alarming rate of our decline - although it feels like a lifetime ago, just two calendar years Sunderland were a Premier League football club.
We all know that the 2016/17 campaign was ultimately a disaster, but in January 2017 we achieved draws at home to Liverpool and Tottenham respectively, before hammering Crystal Palace 4-0 in early February. Of course, results later condemned us to a humiliating relegation, but if you took a straw poll from fans leaving Selhurst Park that day, you would get few arguments against Sunderland once again defying the odds and remaining a top- flight outfit.
So in under two years we have gone from competing with the likes of Spurs and Liverpool and watching Jordan Pickford and Jermain Defoe turning out in a Sunderland shirt to playing League One football. Such a painful realignment of expectations in a short space of time is difficult to adjust to. In the third tier of English football, every defeat or draw is viewed as something of an indignity and even though Scunthorpe had won four games out of their previous five going into Saturday’s fixture, many felt it was a game that Sunderland should win comfortably, if we have aspirations of automatic promotion.
It is also worth pointing out that before last season’s relegation, we had never finished below third in the Championship/Division One since 1995. Therefore, a significant portion of our support had never known us as anything other than either a Premier League club or a side challenging for promotion from the Championship.
This naturally leads to a panic when we fail to win games consistently in League One and reaffirms that although there are many enjoyable aspects of playing at this level, promotion at the first time of asking is essential.
To a certain extent, Sunderland have also been a victim of their own success. When Jack Ross first took over there was an acceptance amongst the fans that things may take a while to click due to the major overhaul of the squad that was necessary.
However, the Scotsman brilliantly managed the remaining high earners and integrated the new lads successfully, while achieving some eye-catching results. Additionally, we strung together an impressive nine match winning streak during October and into November.
Ironically, this initial success may be a contributing factor to the worry amongst some supporters. Had we achieved the same points total after a slow start featuring a number of draws, people would probably reflect on the scratched squad we were forced to field at times during August combined with uncertainty over outgoings and conclude that we did well to avoid defeat over that period.
Ultimately, we are drawing too many games at present and issues such as Josh Maja’s future need to be resolved as soon as possible. However, it is worth remembering the upheaval we have overcome in recent months and lean patches are common place during even the most successful of campaigns.
If we take advantage of our favourable run of forthcoming fixtures we should be very much in the promotion picture come May.
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