Source: @JoshMaja via Twitter It goes without saying that Sunderland have had a tough couple of years. However, ever so gradually, it feels like the doom and gloom that has clouded the club for too long is beginning to lift.
While there may be still be the odd former player choosing to speak out about how difficult the club’s predicament has been, the end to the Didier Ndong saga combined with the searing form of Josh Maja and Benji Kimpioka's stunning early impact mean there are suddenly many more reasons to be cheerful.
A solid platform
Sunderland might sit outside the automatic promotion spots at the time of writing, but their position in third is clearly a step forward from the situations fans have endured in recent seasons. A single league defeat as of mid-October points to more steel and the creation of a solid platform for the side to build on.
People outside of the club seem to be picking up on the positives too. Oddschecker is offering a host of free bets offers at present and fans could use them to take advantage of the reasonable odds on the Black Cats winning League One outright. As of October 12th, the site had Sky Bet promoting odds of 10/3 on the side lifting the trophy in May.
Of course, with such a long way to go, it would obviously be unwise to get excited just yet. However, there are clear signs that matters at the Stadium of Light are finally moving in the right direction.
Saying that, another busy festive period of footballing action should provide some clues as to whether Sunderland really can return to the Championship at the first time of asking. The side have five big fixtures in December and while games against Bradford City, Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury Town on paper should not cause too many issues, a trip to Accrington Stanley could prove a little trickier.
However, Sunderland’s biggest match of the festive period undoubtedly takes place on December 22nd, when the team travel to Fratton Park to take on a resurgent Portsmouth. Another club which has fallen far since more successful times, Pompey have been in great form this season and were sat top of the tree at the time of writing. With the likes of Ronan Curtis, Jamal Lowe and Brett Pitman leading the attack, they are undoubtedly going to be a tough test just before the end of the year.
Exciting times ahead
Sunderland fans have a lot to be excited about at present, but the festive period could be the moment that we get the clearest indication on what the future holds for this team. Victory at Pompey and strong results in the other games could undoubtedly be another step towards securing a very important promotion.