SUNDERLAND’S players seemed to have an epiphany on Saturday.
There was little to commend their performance during the first 45 minutes at the Britannia Stadium. A similar second half would have almost certainly brought defeat.
But during half-time they seemed to have unlocked one of the universe’s less cryptic secrets.
Stoke City are not great.
This is a trait that Stoke share with a large majority of teams in the Premier League.
They aren’t a bad side and the league table offers more than a hint that they have a better squad than Sunderland. But they are certainly not great.
Quite why this bathtime-for-Archimedes moment had to wait until around 4pm on April 25 is not obvious.
If only they had realised that Crystal Palace, QPR, Aston Villa, Hull and a few others are moderate at best, then Saturday evenings would have been an average of 67 percent jollier since August (we worked it out). Still, better late than never.
Sunderland were yet again making decent opposition look sublime when the half-time whistle blew, but were probably the better side in the second period. There was a change of formation, but more important was that they stopped panicking.
How did they stumble upon the news that there is no need to be so nervous when playing any team outside the top six? Did someone shove a note under the door?
It was hardly a flawless effort by Sunderland, even in the second half. There were mistakes; mainly missed chances and certain individuals needing to do more.
Connor Wickham had quite a good game, but with his youth and physique he really ought to be biting the noses of centre-backs, rather than leaving them time and space.
Jordi Gómez needs to cover more ground and it is probably best that I omit any mention of the reformed workaholic Jack Rodwell.
It was a good point. It has been pointed out by some pundits that a win would have been better and we thank them for their remarkable insight. But to continue with the theme of the bleeding obvious, a draw was considerably better than a defeat.
Nothing can be done about other clubs’ results, so Sunderland will just have to take the positives from Stoke and carry them into the Southampton game on Saturday.
If they are even half as bad as they were against Palace and Villa, they will lose. However, there are reasons for optimism and here they are.
Southampton lost at Stoke a week before Sunderland drew there. Using indisputable logic, this means that Sunderland are better than Southampton.
Southampton have not had a victory on Wearside in 12 years. Since they were promoted in 2012, they have only won one of their seven league and cup games against Sunderland, that was back in October and they needed eight flukes to do so.
Should some nitpicker wish to allude to the fact that Sunderland have not won a home league game against Southampton since December 1999, then either cover your ears and say “la-la-la,” or point out that this only means that a home win is due.
Straw clutching? You bet. But everyone connected with Sunderland AFC, not least the fans, must do anything they can to remain positive. I am aware of the snarling cynicism that I am inviting here, but be honest; does anyone have a better idea?
The fans could be the difference. They were crucial during the latest win over Newcastle, just as they were last season at those must-win home games against Cardiff City and West Brom. Please do the same on Saturday.
To return to where we began, the most important thing to bear in mind is that Southampton, like Stoke, are not great either. They are obviously not mugs and are 11 places higher than Sunderland for a reason.
But that is not the same as invincible, as their defeats this season to Stoke, Burnley, Everton, West Brom, Swansea and a few others goes to prove.
Get out there and get at them. Then do the same next week at Goodison Park.
Stranger results have been known this season and certainly last; which brings us another reason for optimism.
After 33 games last season Sunderland were rock bottom and six points adrift before embarking on that miracle run-in.
Grim as things are, they don’t need another miracle. They just need enough improvement to turn draws into wins.
The Premier League is routinely referred to as the “best league in the world,” but only by the sarcastic and the deluded.
Respecting the abilities of the opposition is reasonable.
But why have Sunderland been so frightened this season?