UNLIKE the rising number of English football fans disinterested in the national team these days, I was quite content watching the victory in Switzerland on Monday night.
The main source of my satisfaction came in Roy Hodgson finally getting to grips with a modern system and implementing it successfully.
The one long-standing irritant is the observation that they are still reluctant to play a specialist defensive midfielder; we instead see them try and redefine other players so they can be shoehorned in to the formation, apparently on the basis that they play for top sides.
Lee Cattermole anyone?
I’m not going to bang that particular drum today, but the whole situation does highlight to me just how happy I am with the set-up at Sunderland at present.
After spending months on end witnessing our midfield being overrun by anybody and everybody, it’s very rewarding watching the manager mould a working and purposeful model in the middle of the park.
You look at the roles each player has and you look at the pecking order, and the clear structure is obvious. There’s that cliched “identity” starting to materialise.
My main worry at this point is that the longer we go without a league win, the more it will play on everybody’s mind.
We could all see last season, post-League Cup final wobble aside, that this was a much more functional side in comparison to the ones under Bruce, O’Neill and Di Canio.
But the fact we were always playing catch up was an obvious source of frustration for the fans, players and coaching staff alike. It was visible every time Gus Poyet spoke that he was desperate for that climb out of the bottom three.
Thankfully, we got the chance to start from square one this season when we avoided the drop, so the thought of Larsson and Cattermole continuing to improve is a fascinating one. The thought of Rodwell and Alvarez fulfilling their renowned potential is a really fascinating one.
Yet the thought of breaking into October without a league win is a terrifying one.
Now, I’m not on a mission to scaremonger here.
Every time I wonder about the levels of ability this squad has as a collective, I remind myself of what our bench looks like in comparison to previous seasons.
It wasn’t too long ago we’d be trailing in a game and begin to realise we had players like David Vaughan, Jack Colback and Valentin Roberge as the ones to turn to.
That isn’t a cheap swipe at Colback either, he was very good at certain things for us, but chasing a game wasn’t one of them.
Now a glance across to the dugout will remind you there’s likely to be a selection from Giaccherini, Alvarez, Fletcher, Buckley, Gomez and a seemingly refreshed Jozy Altidore. There’ll be many who argue it isn’t all that great and that more still needs doing to the squad.
I’d argue that while that may be true, there are an array of game-changing options there to remind everyone that we’re not in bad shape at all.
Gus spoke of the English obsession of having a “Plan B” when he first arrived at the club. While he may not wish to divert too far from his tried and tested system and set-up, the sheer numbers available for selection in the middle of the park has to reassure even the most pessimistic of fans.
The home fixture list looks tough in the first half of the season. as it did last time around. But falling behind to sides like tomorrow’s opponents, Spurs, does not fill me with dread like it used to.
I have a sneaky feeling for the lads this week.
* The Wise Men Say podcast is available from every Monday, with SAFC debate from a variety of guests and post-match reaction from Gus Poyet. You can be stream it direct from wisemensay.co.uk or subscribe to it on iTunes