I think it is about time we dust ourselves down a little and try to shed a little perspective on the aftermath of 2-1. With that in mind, I had a bit of a think about three things which were huge encouragements to me and three things which get the pessimism flowing once more.
Three Reasons to be Cheerful:
1. Short taking some responsibility
Ellis Short acknowledged in his programme notes that he must take responsibility for getting at least one decision wrong in the last nine months. Okay, it doesn’t exactly rectify a period in which the club have done little to address the dislocation many fans feel from their club. However, it is very rare for an owner or chairman to publically admit that they made a mistake. This is significant. Short being prepared to hold his hands up to this is an important step in putting it right. It remains to be seen whether the structural changes he implemented following last season’s disappointing campaign are the right way forward or not. Clearly Paolo Di Canio was a poor appointment but perhaps the system needed a different head coach, rather than the head coach needs a different system.
2. Colback in midfield
I’m not sure how much longer Jack Colback will be able to carry the ‘unsung hero’ tag as most fans would have given him man of the match last Sunday. He always seemed like one of the players who could be a really good fit with Gus Poyet: wins the ball, keeps the ball, plays it simple. He’s never likely to unleash a 50 yard Hollywood pass or beat three men and whip a cross in but he’s a very tidy footballer and well suited to a possession game. Against the Mags he showed he might just have enough about him to warrant a place in a two-man midfield, 4-4-2 set up, as well as a midfield three.
3. Evidence of some grit & resilience
It was by no means a showcase of quality football on Sunday but finally – finally! – the players showed a bit of determination, grit and resilience. Many a preview focused on the result being determined by ‘who wanted it more’. Prior to the game, on BBC Newcastle, former Newcastle defender-turned-pundit John Anderson boldly stated that “1 to 11 Newcastle are better”. I wouldn’t have quite gone that far, but I would say that Newcastle have better players than Sunderland at the moment so it’s particularly gratifying to get the win. I think Poyet showed some real tactical nous in how the team were prepared and set up on the day but, credit where it’s due, the players gave everything they had.
Three Reasons to be Cautious:
1. No let up in fixture list
The tough run of home games is yet to conclude and we need to try and get something from one of those games if we're to stay up. Yes, as the old cliche goes, everyone has to play each other twice but clearly the order of those games is significant. With Man City, Chelsea and Spurs (arguably all title contenders) the next three home games, the impact of potential defeats on morale & confidence could be devastating. Fans too need to stick together through those tricky home games and support the team otherwise the derby win will count for little. More than anything, Hull City away looks like the proverbial 'must win' if we're to get out of our current mess.
2. No SAFC bounce from an early season derby win
We've won an early-season derby against the Mags 7 times since the war but only twice have we gone on to improve our league position in the period between that win and the end of the season. I thought Newcastle were, apart from the first 20mins, the better side. The period in and around their equaliser I was contemplating that old futile conundrum of 'would you take a point now?' It was a very traditional sort of derby game - lots of commitment, little quality - and the great pluses we can take from the battling performance of the players may be offset by the lack of any obvious improvement in passing and keeping possession of the ball. Early days in the Poyet reign of course and to pick faults in a derby-winning performance seems like heresy but it's doubtful that we can put quite that much exertion into every single game. Poyet has little room to implement change and the size of the task is given sharp focus by the fact that to keep us up now would, arguably, be the greatest escape since the Premier League started.
3. Recent signings still with a point to prove
Okay, I'm not wanting to see the negative in everything here because, Lord knows, there are enough negatives about supporting Sunderland that you don't have to go and look for more. Fabio Borini's strike was the most joyous moment at the SOL for a long time. It was the sort of goal that opposition teams score, not Sunderland. It was a flash of quality, a beautiful, searing strike, gathering pace as it bent back Krul's despairing fingers and pulled the net tight as it rippled around the goal. Get it there! However, up until that point Borini has made little impact this season. Several of the much discussed 'gang of 14' who arrived in the last transfer window still seem a long way from the first team. It's still hard to argue that last year's best performers – Simon Mignolet, Danny Rose and Stephane Sessegnon - have been adequately replaced. The outstanding players in the derby - Colback, Lee Cattermole and Steven Fletcher - have all been around for a while and though I thought Andrea Dossena had a decent enough game at left-back many of the new signings have a lot to prove.
I was amazed that Sky gave Jozy Altidore man-of-the-match. I thought he was poor against Mags and against Man U. If nothing else the return of Fletcher and the ease with which he makes space to create simple goal scoring opportunities (against the Mags & against Palace) only highlights Fletcher's genuine centre-forward credentials and Altidore's limitations in this regard. Yes, he puts in a shift, great attitude, he's big & strong and awkward, he's been really unlucky not to score... but I'd much rather face him than Fletch. Hopefully a goal will change things for him but we look increasingly reliant on one man (Fletch) for a goal threat. Again. The other unknown here is whether Borini's strike was a one-off wonder goal or evidence of why Liverpool shelled out £10m for him. Fingers crossed it's the latter.
Join the debate! Use the comments section below or you can discuss with other SAFC fans here.