Let me ask you a question. How do you think we played on Thursday?
Not “how well”, just “how...”
I know this will sound ridiculous, but bear with me: the quality of play (tackles completed, passes made, chances converted) pales in comparison to “how” we played (supporting your teammates, running at the opposition with the ball, pressing hard without it).
It’s impossible not to think back to this time last year and mark the changes. New owners, new league, new players, new manager, new seats (some, at least). A new attitude.
But a new way of playing? That’s what’s most important, and that’s what we’re looking for.
So again, how do you think we played?
Something that hasn’t changed from the parallel universe that was Sunderland under Simon Grayson is the points tally after two games. Obviously, this isn’t a proper comparison just yet – we've only played two games.
But the point I’m making is that we were also cautiously bullish this point last season. And we’d also won our League Cup match. Could our shiny bubble of optimism be bursting? Again? Has enough changed? These performances could be a throwback to a season we’d all rather just forget.
How does Simon Grayson think we’ve played?
They say when Jürgen Klopp used to analyse games alongside Peter “The Eye” Krawietz he would watch a version of the game with the goals edited out.
As insanely boring as that sounds, there’s some ruthlessly charming logic in there; the team that performs the best on the day tends to win the match. If you analyse and improve the main body of the performance, the goals and clean sheets should start to roll in.
The headlines say Öztürk’s howler dirtied Sunderland’s sheet, and the forwards couldn’t offer a reply. Yet, if we were to watch Jürgen’s limited-edition director’s cut, would there be reason for optimism?
How does “The Normal One” think we played? And should we be worried?
Personally, considering all of the above, I’m not worried in the slightest. In fact, I’ve never seen a performance at the Stadium of Light so full of promise.
A stark contrast from my stance a month ago.
What separates the early performances this season from those 12 months ago are actually the mistakes that were made. While Sunderland slipped up from time to time - Öztürk’s blunder, O’Nien’s temperament, Hume finding himself out of position – they all stemmed from positive moments – the team feeling comfortable on the ball, O'Nien pressing Tom Lees back to his corner, Hume running himself ragged to help the build-up.
By contrast, I’d say the squad started last season quite “well”. Or at least they’d found top gear to find they maxed out at the speed limit. It was the upper limit of a faintly poor brand of football with players that didn’t really want to be there.
While we can never be satisfied by errors, we can console ourselves with the fact they are growing pains rather than signs of a dying club. And that they didn’t come from the goalie for a change.
So long as the coaching staff address these issues and the players are committed to improving, then the side’s brightest days are ahead of them.
So to answer the question of how the team played, they strode forward with ambition and with belief. This isn’t a throwback, this is the start of something new.