Sunderland’s two games immediately after their Wembley exertions provided possibly the most important victories of the season so far.
There was tension among fans before the Accrington Stanley game a week ago. The circumstances were very trying, especially for Jack Ross.
Had the game not been won, he would have been criticised for whatever team selection he had made. It was reassuring to witness the five changes assisting rather than hindering an easy win.
Rochdale, by contrast, was more representative of Sunderland’s wins this season. The home side raised their game against the big club. It was hard work even for spectators and the fixture was not a classic. My personal highlight was the final whistle.
Yet despite the game and performance at Spotland being of a lesser standard than at Accrington, I think the trip provided the fonder memories. Even after the Burton Albion game last night, it’s still pleasant to reminisce about Saturday.
If you weren’t there, you might be wondering why I am still warming myself with reminiscences of Rochdale. Well it isn’t solely due to late winners always being great (even at the end of a so-so game).
Nor is it because Rochdale is a surprisingly pleasant town with some beautiful buildings. Or even because I can also now recommend the Laughing Loaf for breakfast (ask for Patrick). Their stadium is decent too. But those recommendations are not what made my day.
As I said, my personal highlight was the final whistle. But what a final whistle. It was uplifting to see the reaction of the players who were as overjoyed as the fans.
It was “only” a win over the second bottom side. But you could see what it meant to the players. In short: they care. They love playing for a great club. They love the game of football.
There are (hopefully) only six games remaining. Last night’s result has understandably not led to the bookies amending their odds-on prices on automatic promotion for Sunderland, whose fate is in their own hands.
Still, we will only believe it when it happens. Never underestimate the potential for things to go horribly wrong. But if they do make a rear-end of it, it will be attributable to honest mistakes.
Regrettably I can’t help but compare the attitude of the current players and staff to some of their predecessors. I have yet to bring myself to watch a single, painful minute of Sunderland ‘Til I Die. Why would I want to be reminded?
I refer of course here to all those charlatans, liars, users, money-grabbers, whingers, wasters, responsibility deniers, incompetents, idlers, shirkers, ingrates, disrespecters, cowards, dodgers, libertines, poseurs, moral vacuums, spongers, back-stabbers and sleazebags we recall.
Not that I ever dwell upon them. I’m just saying.
The squad of 2018-19 is not the most gifted in the history of SAFC, or even of the past decade. In fact it’s nowhere near.
But even if they manage to concoct a disaster in the next 18 to 46 days – and we never rule it out – they are still worthy of our respect; because it won’t be down to a shortfall of effort or passion.
For a change.