A lot can happen in 14 minutes. Usain Bolt could run the 100m sprint 87 times. Lewis Hamilton could do nine and a half laps of Silverstone. And Sunderland can dash your hopes and bring you back to reality.
Fourteen minutes was all it took for the optimism of pre-season to fade into the background, as Tariqe Fosu capitalised on a poor pass from George Dobson and an equally poor touch from Conor McLaughlin and put Oxford United ahead last Saturday. As we well know, a Lynden Gooch penalty upheld our reputation as the best drawers since Pablo Picasso died, but a timid showing and failure to win a game we really should be winning ensured gloom is once again the order of the day on Wearside.
Much of the ire forthcoming since last weekend has been directed at Jack Ross, and it is easy to see why. The manager introduced his new formation, lined up with only two starters from the play-off final…and absolutely nothing changed. We looked limp at the back, ponderous in midfield and altogether lacking in pace or ideas. Up front, Will Grigg continues the world’s most expensive orienteering course, foraging alone while the rest try and figure out a rendezvous with a man who might well wish he’d never answered his phone back in January.
We also now find ourselves with a glaring issue on one side of the field, with Denver Hume left hopelessly exposed last week. Our left-back situation is indicative of why the manager is not the only one at fault if this season goes awry. It is much too early to suggest it will but beginning the season with an untested youngster as our first-choice full-back is hardly ideal, particularly when we had a more than able body in Reece James sitting around, and especially when we consider our standing in this division. Talk of quality loans in from the Championship is cheap until actions match the words.
Off we trot then, down to Portman Road and Ipswich, scene of Simon Grayson’s famous “We had them on the ropes at 4-2” quote. For the uninitiated, the score was 4-2 to them, and we didn’t score again. They did. That was a fateful night that hammered home the feeling of ‘Oh shit, we really are in bother here’, and anyone who was there then and is planning on going this weekend needs both a medal and a PTSD counsellor on call.
Ipswich have had plenty of turmoil themselves yet still eked out a good win at Burton last weekend. A trip to their place is, arguably, our toughest game of the season (at least on paper), so it is disappointing that we not only enter it from a place of negativity but also without our squad fully fit for purpose. Regardless, there is no one in this league we should fear; writing it off and looking beyond it would be sacrilege.
Ultimately, the time for excuses is over. Last season offered mitigation for owners, manager and players, even if all three caused their own problems. Such mitigation is now gone. Sunderland AFC simply must get out of this division this season. Anything else would be disastrous and negligent.
Last weekend was a false start. A draw wouldn’t be the end of the world this weekend, but another poor performance will set alarm bells ringing. We need to start getting it right – now.