Good things come to those who wait

IT IS a sign of how far Sunderland have come in recent times that fans are currently bemoaning their slow start to the season.

Previously, two opening away games without defeat would have been cause for cheer on Wearside, while a home defeat to their local neighbours would hardly have departed from the norm.

However, such is the optimism and expectation that now reverberates around the Stadium of Light, following five years with Niall Quinn at the helm, that many ardent red and whites find themselves wondering if the Black Cats' early season form is acceptable.

As with most things, looking at Sunderland's start to the season in different ways vastly changes one's outlook.

For those disposed to believing partially drank beverages mean the glass must be half-empty, no wins and just a solitary goal in four competitive games are the immediate facts that spring to mind.

For those at the other end of the spectrum, sipping optimistically from half-full tankards, a fairly sturdy backline and two points away from home form the basis of their own more positive arguments.

The naysayers are perhaps fully within their rights to question the performances of the side thus far. The opening day draw at Liverpool, whilst deserved on the back of an excellent second forty-five minutes, was still fortunate following the Reds' profligacy in the first half.

Moreover, another disappointing Wear-Tyne Derby was hardly the brightest way to start off a new home campaign. Nor did a terribly dull 0-0 draw in South Wales do little to allay fears that this side is one that will struggle to score goals.

Yet there is solitude to be found, lying just below the surface of the current malaise.

Via Steve Bruce's hectic transfer activity over the summer, Sunderland now find themselves with a squad that, on paper, can lay claim to being within the Premier League's top ten.

Of course, football isn't played on paper. But even in their seemingly slow start to the season, the Black Cats have showed promising signs of what may occur over future months.

The additions of Wes Brown and, later, John O'Shea to the defence has seen the red and whites looked a much more formidable proposition for opposing strikers to take on. Indeed, the only two league goals they have shipped came courtesy of individual mistakes on set-pieces.

Meanwhile, the departure of Jordan Henderson to Anfield at the start of the summer has resulted in Jack Colback stepping admirably into the role of Sunderland's 'next big thing'. Colback has continued where he left off last season, looking calm and assured on the ball.

And now, following Bruce's last-gasp capture of Nicklas Bendtner on a year-long loan deal, the Wearsiders look set for another season of progress.

It is unlikely, though, that Saturday's game at home to Chelsea will get them truly up and running. The visiting Blues boast an embarrassing array of talent and wealth; indeed, new coach Andre Villas-Boas, acquired for roughly £13.3m from Porto this summer, thus cost more than Sunderland's record on the field signing - Asamoah Gyan.

Fans should not despair though, for all the foundations of success are in place. True, the side still lacks an out and out left-back, but, from the bottom-up, the Black Cats are set up correctly.

This weekend marks the ten year anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. For Sunderland, that event coincided with a rapid downturn in the club's fortunes, following two years of sustained top division success.

Now, supporters will be hoping history doesn't repeat itself. With things as they are, it certainly shouldn't. However, in the meantime, a semblance of patience would be most welcome.

CHRIS WEATHERSPOON

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