Sunderland heading for the beach - but there is much to cheer

First published in The Roker Report Durham Times: Photograph of the Author by , Sports Writer/Sub-Editor

AFTER the storm comes the calm.

Sunderland’s season promised to be successful, petered out, threatened to end in disaster, then victory at Bolton last weekend – however unlikely it was – has ensured that there is very little to play for in the final two games except merit payments and pride.

Of course, we all too well know that once Sunderland are safe, their players are not exactly motivated by the prospect of netting the club’s hierarchy an extra million or two in prize money.

Now that safety has been secured, and the relief that goes with that, the foot will come off the gas and I’m not expecting the next two games to be resulting in Sunderland wins.

However, the eyes of the Premier League will be on Wearside on Saturday, then a week later at Upton Park, for Sunderland play a massive part in the outcome of the relegation battle without being involved directly in it. Quite ideal, really.

Mick McCarthy relishes his returns to the Stadium of Light. After all, he stands more of a chance of winning a game with his Wolves team than he ever did there with Sunderland in the Premier League.

But I’m sure he would have wanted to come here when there wasn’t so much pressure, when the future of his new employers’ status depends on the result on Saturday.

What he does enjoy, however, is the rare quirk of being a former Sunderland manager whose popularity on Wearside remains quite high.

If Lawrie McMenemy ever sets foot in the Stadium of Light, you’ll know what I mean.

So I doubt there’d be much rejoicing from Sunderland’s supporters if the Black Cats do manage to stick a nail in the Wanderers’ relegation coffin tomorrow.

I wouldn’t hold your breath. Now the pressure’s off, I’d imagine Sunderland’s players will want shot of the season as quick as you can say Sandy Lane.

Mind you, there was much to cheer last weekend. Jack Colback and Jordan Henderson in the middle of the park was a real treat to watch. Anchored by their avuncular team-mate, the evergreen Bolo Zenden, and flanked by Steed Malbranque and Ahmed Elmohamady, the young pair thrived on the space that Bolton’s advanced midfielders afforded them.

There was much to cheer from their performance. In a midfield many assumed to be poorer without Lee Cattermole, it was almost like a missing jigsaw piece clicked into action.

It went some way to highlight that Cattermole is some way off being in top form.

Another plus point was the performance of Stephane Sessegnon, who was a ray of sunshine for Sunderland.

He runs at defenders, causes them problems, asks them questions, and came up with two assists on Saturday.

For me, he was man of the match, and I genuinely look forward to seeing him play every time he lines up for Sunderland.

I don’t know how he fits into the equation when the likes of Campbell and Gyan are fully fit, that’s a problem that Steve Bruce needs to work out.

But, when this season was on the verge of collapse, there are real green shoots of recovery that can only bode well for the future.

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