Lee Johnson has brought a bit of positivity back to Wearside, with Sunderland’s recent run of form suggesting that promotion is becoming more and more of a possibility.
Sunderland’s relegation to League One was one of the more absurd things to happen in football. Some of the country’s biggest clubs have spent time in the third tier of English football, but when back-to-back relegations forced the Black Cats into the division, the footballing world was put into a state of disbelief.
After a play-off final defeat and a season that was cut short because of the ongoing pandemic, Sunderland now find themselves in fourth place in their third promotion attempt.
Despite being favourites for the third successive season, Sunderland fans have become increasingly pessimistic about their chances of returning to the Championship, but the appointment of Lee Johnson brought a new lease of life.
The former Bristol City man has lost just twice in 17 games in charge, bringing attacking football back to the Stadium of Light.
Towering forward Charlie Wyke is one individual who has benefitted from Johnson’s brand of attacking football, scoring 15 times in the 16 games he has played under his new manager. In fact, before the 39-year-old’s arrival, the Black Cats averaged 1.2 goals a game, but since, this figure has risen to 1.82.
It seems that Johnson spotted a clear issue and has addressed it promptly, but he has not let that compromise the side as a defensive unit. Sunderland have still conceded the fewest goals in League One this season and have certainly been tested with a number of injuries to key individuals in their usual backline.
Quiz: Did each of these 18 ex-Sunderland players ever score a goal at the Stadium of Light?
Injuries to Bailey Wright, Tom Flanagan and Jordan Willis have meant that fourth choice centre-back Dion Sanderson and the adaptable Luke O’Nien have formed an unlikely partnership in recent weeks. O’Nien has played in almost every position for Sunderland over the years and his versatility has once again proved invaluable.
In five starts together, the pair have conceded just two goals and have picked up 13 points from a possible 15. Sanderson, who is currently on-loan from Wolves, has adapted to first-team football seamlessly at Sunderland, netting his first career goal in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Rochdale.
Lee Johnson has certainly raised spirits in Wearside and will be hopeful that when fans return back to the Stadium of Light, they will be watching their club in Championship action.
There is still plenty of football still to play this season, but the Black Cats are a team with confidence and that is worrying for the rest of the division.