In December 2015 Chelsea slumped to a defeat against Leicester. Their start to the season had been abysmal and they found themselves in very unfamiliar territory just one point clear of the relegation zone. It seemed that many of the players had lost faith with Jose Mourinho and following this defeat he was sacked. In the very next game they took on Sunderland and what happened that day still makes me look at footballers with a fair degree of scepticism and scorn. Suddenly Chelsea’s players remembered how to play football. They blew Sunderland apart that day with the confidence and conviction that had won them the title the year before. It appeared as though the players had chosen not to play until Mourinho was sacked.
That Chelsea team was, on paper, far too good to even be in the bottom half of the table, let alone one point above the drop zone. Indeed, the recovery continued and they would end up finishing 10th. Low by their standards but nowhere near the position suggested by their early season form. It begs the question whether different attitudes would have seen a completely different title race that season. Sunderland, of course, benefited from a below par Chelsea team that season as we won 3-2 at the SOL as we managed another great escape.
Those moments that change performances do pose a question. Do players deliberately turn off their performances in protest, or are they mentally fatigued by the situation around them? Our win at Derby is a huge result which will hopefully carry momentum through to Monday and see us have some real hope of avoiding the drop. Huge improvements in individual performances sparked confidence on the pitch and determination that had previously been absent. There may be many different factors behind the win; the extra break, time away from the training pitch, 4 at the back etc.
What also happened however was that news was filtering through about a potential takeover. That lifted the fans. I have always said that if you look at our team we are far too good to be where we are. We have players with Premier League and even Champions League experience but as we all know, matches are not played on paper. The malaise that has surrounded the club for this season has been mirrored in the team performances. Too many players scared to touch the ball, too many players not fighting with the determination we know they have inside them. Now I’m not so deluded to suggest our performance at Derby was like watching Brazil, but we were very comfortable. I hope the reason for that is because they have confidence and have broken through their psychological shackles because this team is better than their position suggests. There is however a nagging thought in my head that perhaps the promise of a new owner and good times ahead has meant the players are now starting to play for us again.
If that is the case then I guess it’s no bad thing, and I really do not want to be a doomsayer on the back of an incredible win, but should we question the attitude of the players if that were true? I want to believe that Coleman has found the winning formula at last. That perhaps in acceptance of our position the shackles came off. That is a positive take on this, but this is Sunderland. If I accept that then I have hope and it’s the hope that kills you. Where we once dared to dream we now are frightened of being let down.
As supporters we need to contribute to a turnaround. Let’s not have the “here we go again” groans when we concede. Let’s bring back the spirit of the great escapes and that cup run and let’s dare to dream again. Pack the stadium to the rafters on Monday and sing your hearts out for the lads. We’ve given them enough shit this season, let’s support them for what they did yesterday. Every underdog story is driven by the connection between fans and players. In that season when Mourinho was sacked, Leicester were roared to the title by a very noisy passionate bunch of fans. We can make a difference.