Lee Johnson steers Sunderland back on course for promotion – the real test now is maintaining it

Back to back victories have put Sunderland right back into the promotion mix but, as Graeme Atkinson discusses, 'Streaky Lee' is still looming on the horizon

After the weekend’s result it feels as though Lee Johnson has weathered his latest storm. He has developed a keen knack for coming through adversity even if, at times, he is equally adept at succumbing to it.

With a run of four wins from six though, the Lads appear to be once again on an upward swing. And with that latest poor ‘streak’ put to bed, we can all take some comfort in that. Two consecutive home victories with seven goals scored certainly creates a buoyant, festive, some may say ‘party’ mood, if nothing else.

There will be those keen to point out ‘they were right all along’ of course. Anyone who questioned the club’s spectacular dip in form post Crewe away were just being far too negative – even with just one win in six and torrid performances during that time. ‘Where are the Johnson haters now?’ you may hear gleefully exclaimed from some quarters.

It all seems rather petty, does it not? As we know, it is often difficult to distil footballing arguments into binary matters of right and wrong. If only it were that simple. It has been said before but more than one opinion can legitimately compete with another and it is possible for more than one view to be correct.

It was true during Sunderland’s bad run of form and it is true now the tide has turned again.

Just like Johnson, with his talent for sailing through choppy waves, it is on those calmer waters of nuance where more sensible discourse still thankfully exists.

This writer’s current thoughts on Johnson were not formed during this season alone. It would be unfair if that were the case. The victory at Wembley still feels worthy of mention even if it was not holding aloft a pedigree trophy. However, that spectacular collapse of three wins from 11, which saw the Black Cats throw away promotion in the last campaign, has left its indelible mark too. It is those moments that are difficult to remove from your mind when you more recently bear witness to displays such as a 5-1 to Rotherham and a 3-0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, amongst others.

For some the head coach still has work to do. And, that is fine. That is okay. It is not ‘negative’ to highlight this here. It is surely, instead, simply bringing some balance to the belief that Johnson was previously doing no wrong.

Criticism can be positive if it is constructive. As such, if the latest poor run of form has been put to bed then Johnson’s own view that his ‘Streaky Lee’ reputation is unfair should be placed alongside it. If he can better accept some of his own obvious limitations perhaps there is then a better chance of sustained success for our club, in this God forsaken league.

Amongst all of this, the unifying factor is everyone wants Lee Johnson to succeed on Wearside, even those who still have misgivings. That can only work in his favour.

There is now certainly a feeling that automatic promotion is back on the agenda. Johnson should absolutely take credit for that along with his injury ravaged squad. Sunderland is once again hitting that magic two points per game target and if this is maintained then the heady, bright lights of the Championship beckon.

However, let us not be left in any doubt, he may have emerged beleaguered from the last few weeks with his hand still on the tiller, but nothing about Johnson and Sunderland thus far has shown his ‘streaky’ reputation is truly at an end.

Everything feels great at the moment. As it should. It is only right to enjoy where we are. But, there is always the threat of another storm gathering momentum. Yet, you can both be apprehensive of what may be on the horizon, based on what has gone before, and also feel reenergised by recent results. Guess what? Both of these things can live in harmony.

With the January transfer window around the corner and the recruitment team having had further time to now to do their homework, it feels like Sunderland have put themselves in a really positive place to push on this season. Those fabled top two spots are there for Johnson’s taking.

As for his ‘Streaky Lee’ reputation, perhaps only automatic promotion to the Championship can finally break that. In fairness to Johnson, whatever your views are on him, he has Sunderland back on course to achieve it.