Wise Men Say: Sunderland’s season at a crucial crossroads with visit of Birmingham City

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The monkey is off the back, the weight has been lifted, the slate has been wiped clean, every cliche has already been written in regards to Sunderland finally winning a home match.

The victory over Fulham has ultimately relieved some of the gloom that has been hanging over the Stadium of Light for the best part of 18 months.

It was everything a jaded supporter could wish for – a clean sheet, a committed team performance and a youngster emerging from the bench to grab the winning goal on his debut.

While it may be very much baby steps in Chris Coleman’s life as Sunderland head honcho, this good feeling must continue tomorrow.

The visit of Birmingham City represents a crossroads in Sunderland’s season.

For months, supporters have been subject to vassal performances on home soil.

Flat showings have been combined with calamitous mistakes and excellent opportunities have been passed up to give the club what it has needed for a long time – a boring, stable season.

This is the impasse Sunderland have come to and a game that could be the marker of how the remainder of the campaign could go.

Beat Birmingham and there will no doubt be the giddy musings of whether an impending surge towards the play-offs is forthcoming.

Fail to beat the basement side and the familiar doubts may start to creep in.

It is the tightrope that supporters have been walking all campaign – any sign that something could be getting better is usually swiftly rebuked.

The morale-boosting victory at Burton Albion was quickly followed by the gut-punching home defeat against Reading. Tomorrow simply cannot follow a similar pattern.

The Blues are on a wretched run of just one win in 10, they are yet to win on the road this season and have only scored four goals away from St Andrew’s.

This has to be a game where Sunderland seize the initiative, be bold and confident and dispatch a lowly side to show that they are not going to be involved in a relegation fight throughout 2018.

Coleman needs to build on the two excellent results against Fulham and Wolves, keeping the defensive solidity and ensuring there is more penetration at the top of the pitch.

Unlike at many other points in the season, he will have positive selection choices to make.

Will there be a place for the returning Lee Cattermole?

Does he keep faith with the bustling midfield trio of Lynden Gooch, George Honeyman and Darron Gibson?

Does he change from the two strikers and opt for the guile of wingers Aiden McGeady and Callum McManaman?

And will youngsters Joel Asoro and Josh Maja be in with a shot of a start?

It’s actually refreshing to be talking at length about the options he can field, rather than cobbling together a makeshift side.

The home hoodoo is over and the monkey is off the back but tomorrow needs to represent the real dawning of a new era.

Another three points and supporters will be giddily talking about the play-offs over the Christmas dinner table.

*The Wise Men Say podcast is available from every Monday, with SAFC debate from a variety of guests and post-match reaction. You can stream it direct from wisemensay.co.uk or subscribe to it on iTunes