We hope you had a Merry Christmas and without the usual festive football fixtures we thought we'd bring you another roundtable of our regular writers to discuss the current situation at the club. Sobs, Thomas Thornton and Daniel McCallum were asked about the winter break forced on us due to COVID which means we won't kick a ball again until the new year following the announcement that our trip to Accrington will be postponed.
So, we've had a winter break this season, how are you enjoying it and are you missing the football?
Sobs: "A winter break isn’t something I’ve ever been in favour of, as I can’t see the point, with the fixture list already congested enough without removing a couple of weeks from the season. There are already breaks due to International games, even at our level, and to introduce another would mean starting the season earlier, finishing it later, or both… or taking the current situation and using it to change British football into a summer game, beginning in March and ending in November. Sounds plausible? Not really, with major international tournaments taking place in 'our' summer – apart from the 2022 World Cup, which will effectively force a mid-season break on the Premier League. I expect this will be seen by those in power who favour a break as an opportunity to make it a permanent fixture. Or non-fixtures, if you like – watch this space."
Thomas Thornton: "Honestly, I've quite missed football, despite the fact I haven't been watching them on the streams, I still keep up to date, check the scores and that sort of stuff. I do however miss going to the football in general, especially over the festive period which is always a highlight of the season - there's just something about a hectic Christmas schedule and heading to football with the whole family, especially those who come back home from various areas of the country to watch the Lads. I haven't missed the freezing cold midweek games though! Then again, maybe I have, quite frankly I would kill to go to one at the moment!"
Daniel McCallum: "From a fan’s perspective, I’m hugely missing matchdays as I’m sure many others are. When we had to watch matches from at home, I didn’t realise how much of an impact it still had on my mental health. Even though we weren’t allowed to be there physically, we could still support the lads virtually through our screens. Without that release of stress and something to engage with, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to remain emotionally invested in everyday life. The similarities to the first lockdown are scarily similar, and in my opinion the sooner the lads get on the pitch the better. The only minor benefit I’ve experienced from this winter break is that it’s allowed for more time to be spent with close family, without every Saturday being ruined by a poor result."
What do you see as the pros and cons of the enforced break?
Sobs: "This current enforced break is not something I’m enjoying, but I’d be enjoying it even less if it was during a season when we were actually attending matches. Being currently in the time that time forgot between Christmas and New Year when nobody knows what day it is anyway, it’s difficult to get any more upset about not being at the match even if we’re not actually playing. I’m absolutely missing the football despite having invested in the technology to enable bingeing on the televised variety – I was reminded recently, during a call from a football mate checking on my sanity, that we’ve not met since Bristol Rovers, and that’s nearly ten months ago. That’s far too long not to be with your football mates in a football environment."
Thomas Thornton: "I do think that the break will allow some of the players such as Lynden Gooch and Denver Hume to recover full from their respective injuries, however, I think there's more cons than there are pros to the situation. I mean we've lost all the momentum we had coming off the back of that Lincoln win, I know we played Wimbledon in between but obviously that was the start of the whole outbreak at the club. Another one of the cons to this predicament that I keep banging on about is that we need to play as many games as soon as possible, it bit us in the backside under Jack Ross when we finished in the play-offs due to injuries caused the hectic finishing schedule caused by international breaks and then of course last season when we missed out on even the play-offs thanks to the points per game system."
Daniel McCallum: "I think in any other season, a winter break like this one would be useful, especially in League One where games come thick and fast. In theory, it would give teams more time to recover and recuperate from a packed season, protecting players from the frosty and potentially dangerous conditions of winter. However, this season a winter break is certainly not welcome. First of all, it hasn’t been for every club, so it’s potentially giving certain teams a significant advantage. We’ve fallen behind due to a lack of games played, and Sunderland teams of the past have proven that games in hand are by no means guaranteed wins. With Lee Johnson arriving, he would have liked a run of games to find his best eleven, building on the team’s impressive win at Lincoln. However, that momentum has well and truly been sapped, with it being almost three weeks since that resounding win."
Do you worry a resurgence of the second wave may see another premature end to the football season?
Sobs: "On the upside, no games mean fewer games without injury victims, as long as we didn’t knack Gooch completely by playing him against Wimbledon, so that (hopefully) we’ll have more fit players to choose from when things start up again. It will also have given Lee Johnson more time with the players to imprint his philosophy on them on the training field (if and when it’s open for use) rather than seeing how it goes in competitive games. On the downside, the mood of optimism and the momentum generated by the Lincoln win (if you can remember that far back) has basically evaporated. I’m not counting the Wimbledon nonsense, as that game should never have been played and it was more a case of picking eleven fit players rather than a Johnson team. Even the news that the club have agreed terms with Kyril Louis Dreyfus, hereinafter referred to as KLD, which gave us fans a bit of an early Christmas present during the current football-free period, hasn’t been celebrated in the usual fashion because we can’t meet up to share our dreams of future glories. Sharing smiley emojis on social media is a poor substitute for a good old discussion on the pros and cons of the deal – and the EFL have yet to ratify it. Don’t expect a quick decision from them, as they’re being snowed under by requests for postponements due to positive COVID tests, not least from us. Think positive though – he at least sounds like he believes in SAFC and its fans."
Thomas Thornton: "Looking at the news and the talks of the Oxford vaccine being approved in the coming days, you'd like to think, or maybe hope, that the season can be played out and who knows, we may even be allowed back into the ground for the tail end of the season. I think we may be waiting a couple of months before the virus has truly passed over and we can start getting back to normality in the slightest, but I think if the vaccine is rolled out successfully then I live in hope that we can be in the stadium for the end of the season, hopefully celebrating promotion!"
Daniel McCallum: "I do worry that the season could be curtailed early due to the second wave. With London in Tier Four and many regions not far behind, the government and other authorities could decide that continuing the season is not in the nation’s best interests."
If the season were to be cut short, do you feel confident that we could make the play-offs?
Sobs: "With news of players across the league system testing positive appearing in the papers every day, there’s every possibility that this season will end up like the last one, with some teams simply unable to fulfil their fixtures because their squads aren’t big enough to cope with COVID as well as the usual stuff like suspensions and injuries. If that happens, we can only hope that the EFL find a more suitable method of deciding who finishes where. However, should it run its full course, it’s still difficult to predict where we’ll finish up. We looked the business at Lincoln, having transformed from a side that had lots of the ball but didn’t do much with it to a side that probably had less of the ball but were ruthlessly efficient, by our standards at least, with what we did have. It’s dead easy to get carried away and think that that one display of efficiency, shown against the second-placed team in the division, should be more than enough to see us into the play-off positions – but that opinion is based on watching one game on the telly and hearing the comments of our new manager using terms more familiar with sales executives than a football players and fans. It might well be that we have turned the corner in terms of attitude and effectiveness on the pitch, but equally, it might not. Personally, I think that if the season runs as close to normal as possible, we manage our fixture backlog correctly, and the January window is used well (to unearth the next Kevin Phillips), the Lincoln result will prove not to have been a fluke and we’ll have enough about us to end the season in a positive place."
Thomas Thornton: "I think we have a decent team but not so much a decent squad and by that I mean I think we're lacking in squad depth and option for key positions and roles. Hopefully, the new owner may give us a bit an injection in the January transfer window to strengthen and improve in areas, I think we definitely need an out and out goal scorer, Wyke is good but I think we may still need someone who can remain fit because let's face it, big Charlie is slightly injury prone! I think it'll be a massive slog to get into the play-offs but it is most certainly doable, there will be plenty competition but I reckon if we keep battling on and we play like we did against Lincoln I don't think we have too much to worry about other than injuries which will be solved with some quality reinforcements in January."
Daniel McCallum: "However, if the season is ended early, I would fancy our chances of making the playoffs as long as we played some games between now and the end. Johnson has already shown an ability to get this team playing exciting football and with a full strength squad, we could make a huge surge towards the top of the table. This league is arguably the poorest it’s been since we came down here, with no team really pulling up any trees. This could work in our favour, with momentum swinging in full force with a new manager and new owner."