The worst parties always bring the worst hangovers. Hangovers that don’t let up. Hangovers that make you question whether you’ll ever drink again. Hangovers where you look for anything to make it better but almost nothing does.
The play off final was the worst party ever.
We tried to persuade ourselves that it would be OK. There was that bloke in the Royal Box who was probably a gazillionaire. We’d probably be signing an international defender and the League One team of the year. The hundred point target would probably end up being hit in March.
We just needed to wait and the hangover would clear.
But it didn’t.
Because he wasn’t.
And we didn’t.
Somehow the failure of the takeover to happen, the signing of players from relegated and mid table League One teams made the hangover worse.
But at least we had the experience of Cattermole to lead us forwards and the new formation would solve the goals conceded problem…
The worst thing that could happen had happened, our hangover had followed us right through the summer and we walked into the Oxford game with doubts. Nervous. Hoping for the best but with no evidence that anything had changed, fearing the same as last season. And two 1-1 draws really didn’t help.
But then… slowly but surely… the sun came up… a win in the Milk Cup at Accrington was a start but hardly proof that the haze was lifting. Portsmouth would be a far harder test. And when Harness scored we knew we were no further forward.
Can’t compete, crap signings, odd formations, no money…
Then we won a corner. And, forgive me if this goal is getting better in my memory than it actually was but, as the ball was played in, Jordan Willis rose, hung motionless in the air before moving forwards again like a bowling ball, Portsmouth players falling like ten pins then the header which ripped the net, the crowd erupted and Gordon Armstrong was heard saying ‘I wish I’d scored a header that important.’
The corner had been scored and, in another way, the corner had been turned. The rest of that game we looked stronger and seemed to believe that we would do it. Since then every game has been better than the last, every player’s game has raised, there’s a belief in a system, in the players sent out to do the job (even with eight changes), Ross’ decisions look better thought out, his backroom staff are stepping up to the plate and, as it stands after five games, we’re on target for 100 points.
It’s only two and a half weeks since the Accrington game and the world looks an entirely different place. The hangover has gone and we’re looking forwards with anticipation and not fear.
It’s incredible how quickly it’s changed and it all goes back to that Willis header. The commitment from everyone has suddenly returned- players and fans alike, there’s a belief that we can do it.
The next two and a half weeks could be critical for the club with the ongoing takeover moving forwards, the transfer deadline and one more game before the international break against yet another team who will be there or thereabouts in May.
There’s a long way to go and I’m not suggesting everything is perfect but, if we can keep this feeling, somehow bottle the effect of the Willis goal, I can’t see anyone getting near us.
Our summer would have been a lot easier if we’d have known that the bloke in the Royal Box was just keeping the seat warm for some billionaires, that Willis should be an international and that we already have this season’s team of the year but hey, that just wouldn’t be Sunderland.
The hangover has finally gone and the future’s looking good. Let’s get behind the lads and make sure we go into the international break on a 14 point high, probably with a different sort of hangover.