Sunderland: Does dramatic Charlton victory signal the resurgence?
Are Sunderland finally on the up after years of stagnation and a double relegation?
On Saturday afternoon over 31,000 people came to watch Sunderland in their first League One fixture since 1989.
The punters on Wearside were not to be disappointed as the team turned around a 1-0 deficit at half time to win the game 2-1 and achieve the first opening day victory for the club since 2009.
Yes, it is just one game. But are Sunderland finally turning the corner after years of moving backward?
Everything is new about the club
New manager. New seats. New owner. New players. New optimism. Literally everything at Sunderland is new apart from a few players.
The club has been suffering from a malaise since before Sam Allardyce left the club for England in 2016 and it felt that vast changes were needed if they were finally to get the club going in the right direction.
Over the summer, the club was sold to Stewart Donald for £40 million. He then brought in St Mirren boss Jack Ross to lead his new club and gave him the necessary resources to build a team capable of winning football matches.
In came players like Dylan McGeouch, Charlie Wyke, Luke O’Nien, Glenn Loovens, Jack Baldwin and Jon McLaughlin — to name just a few — as the revolution on Wearside began to pick up some traction.
Optimism followed as over 22,000 fans snapped up season tickets and the club itself set themselves a lofty target of being the best-supported side in modern League One history.
The importance of victory
Ultimately, though, all of this would have fallen into insignificance if the club got off to a bad start in front of a huge crowd and a live TV audience and, for a while, it looked like it might.
Charlton were the better side in the first half as Lyle Taylor, who turned Sunderland down this summer in favour of a move to the Addicks, netted a first-half penalty, tormenting the Sunderland defence in the early stages of the game.
Nevertheless, the home crowd stuck by their team and even applauded them off at half-time in spite of the lacklustre performance.
As the second half started, Jack Ross made some important changes that paid almost immediate dividends. In particular, Jerome Sinclair, who recently signed on loan from Watford, turned the game around with his pace and quality.
With the momentum turned around, Josh Maja netted the important equaliser before USA international Lynden Gooch netted the dramatic 96th-minute winner to send the crowd home happy.
Is it just one victory?
False dawns have been common in Sunderland for the last number of years.
Roy Keane guided the club up into the Premier League in 2007 and looked like he would usher in an era of stability, However, he was gone by 2008. Steve Bruce also started well but was ousted in 2011 after some poor results.
Since then, the club have struggled to keep a manager for more than one season and their demise into League One was surprising yet predictable.
For Sunderland’s fans, the weekend’s result felt different because of the work the club have done to solve systemic problems that have plagued them year on year. Directors have left, ownership has changed and players who had become stale have been moved on.
The positivity gained over the summer could well be the start of something very special on Wearside and the clubs potential could be realised if they can keep this momentum going.
This may have just been one game and one victory but, for Sunderland AFC, it represented far more. The future may well be the brightest it has ever been at the Stadium of Light.
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