We rolled down to the south coast en masse as always with a firm belief that this was our moment. This was our tipping point where we stamped our authority and said the league was ours for the taking. Of course, it never ends that way. The ghosts of typical Sunderland past reared their ugly heads and we remembered the damage Ebeneezer Bain had done to our club.
When you look back to the last week it was blatantly obvious this was going to happen. We had just been blind to the signs. Blinded by the feelgood factor perhaps. We should have known better because ultimately this is what we do. In all the fervour of Boxing Day we had this little annoying fixture against the top of the table standing between us and breaking the modern League One attendance record. Fans have been buying tickets for fans who can’t afford to get to the games. Bradford was the big one. Let’s get Pompey out the way so we can have a good day.
And then Loovens happened. I’m not going to defend our indefensible defender. He is slow. He is cumbersome. He looks, to be frank, finished. He possibly shouldn’t have walked for the foul due to the fact his foul was less deliberate and more an old fella losing his legs as a younger fella danced away from him. A red it was though. And a penalty. And a game changer.
You hear footballers trotting out that well-turned phrase “we go again” and it fills most fans with nothing like the inspiration they intend. It is the sound of defeat. They may as well say “Fuck it, we’ll have another try next week”. What followed that defeat in terms of fan reaction though was extraordinary from a number of angles.
Let’s put it all into factual context first off. We are about to celebrate Christmas and Sunderland have lost two games this season. Not only that but we have done that with huge injury problems and a squad that took a while to gel. We are about to set a record attendance. Would you have taken that at the start of the season? Of course you would. I know there are those amongst us who expect us to be waltzing through this league but there are some real fighters in the division.
We have pretty much lost a squad and are getting to grips with that. And yet, social media is a dark place to visit I accept, we have Sunderland fans planting white flags and throwing in towels already. This does not bode well for the “never again” brigade who are not accustomed to the new “we’re with you” attitude at the SoL when they appear against Bradford.
But what of the loyal fans who support the new era? There have been plenty of examples of individuals with incredibly reasonable critique who have questioned decisions and tactics. They have been shut down as quickly as the detractors. Now I admit social media is not necessarily a barometer of what someone would say face to face, but the anonymity of a space in the crowd does cause me concern that Bradford may not be the party we anticipated.
We are surrounded by bedwetters who think we should be attacking rather than holding possession in defence. Hold your heads lads. There’s a very long way to go and we’re doing canny. Are we bossing the league? No. We have however been more successful in terms of points gained than we have for years. Get behind them on Boxing Day, don’t criticise the first stray pass and welcome the prodigal sons to their seats. We’re all supporting the same team.