Welcome to what is a new feature here at Seventy3magazine.co.uk - The Cat's Whiskers, an off the cuff blog from Sunderland enthusiast and top blogger Kelly-Leigh Cooper. You can follow her on twitter here (@jellyyyx).
(She also has her own blog over at www.kelly-leigh.com, give it a read if you have a spare 5 minutes..)
What Martin O’ Neill’s impact has proven most is the flaws in his predecessor’s performance as our manager. Our fan base was lamented and vilified by fellow manager and media outlet alike for being unreasonable- various newspapers exacerbating the Bruce-backlash by honing in on the one-time-sung ‘Fat Geordie bastard’ chant against the manager; conveniently ignoring the fact that the same version with different geographical description was for a long time a favorite at St James during more turbulent times with owner Mike Ashley. Of course Bruce’s portly stature and place of birth had no correlation with his ineptitude in being able to motivate his players, and in that respect the chant was ‘abuse’, but ultimately it was a passionate demonstration of the frustration of the fans- we had gotten to the end of our tether. We expected better and knew the team had the ability to achieve better. Journalists keen to protect the ‘old-school favorite’ Brucey instead denounced us as unreasonable for wanting and expecting better than the substandard we were paying for, Wenger and Ferguson following the inevitable sacking of Steve, followed suit labeling him as undeserving of the treatment he received. It was even suggested the reason for our displeasure was his ‘Geordie’ title, and because of this we never gave him a fair chance. We knew this couldn’t of been further from the truth.
But then came O’Neill and everything changed. His impact seeming more than simply that of a reactionary honeymoon period following a fresh appointment. For a long time my apathy towards the football club had swelled; feeling more and more indifferent and disenfranchised from the football club through Bruce’s blame culture and the team’s inability to perform to their true ability. Now the mood around the club could not be further from this. The club clearly topped the festive form table, even ahead of the league leaders and reigning Champions. Martin’s Midas touch seems to stem from his inspirational man-management skills, he’s galvanized the team and the new collective united spirit is there for all to see.
Lee Cattermole seems a mirrored man, again looking like the exciting prospect he seemed years ago rather than the scapegoat hothead liability he presented under Bruce’s tenure. The skipper says the difference comes from the belief O’Neill has instilled in the players- that every game now is a winnable one and believes he personally has gelled incredibly well with the new gaffer. A far cry from Bruce’s pre-match interview mutterings about maybe being able to get a point. It’s the same players as since the dawn of the 2011 season (the ones, in all fairness, Bruce, acquired). The difference was, that back then we were failing to capitalize on dominance in the possession- the aggressive quick tempo counter-attacking play demonstrated by Martin’s Sunderland though, works to player’s like McLean and Sess’ pace and strength’s and leads to a far more decisive and productive performance goal-wise. The fact that under O’Neil 9 different players have hit the back of the net, shows the galvanizing effect is not solely isolated to the skipper alone. The Martin O’Neill effect is a real thing, and it’s happening at Sunderland and it’s very very exciting to watch as a fan. I’m enjoying watching and supporting Sunderland again.
It’s been almost 7 weeks since his appointment. Almost exactly 39 years to the day since a certain Mr Bob Stokoe took the managerial helm. Within 6 months of Stokoe’s first season he had affirmed his name in the SAFC History books for eternity, bringing home the FA Cup for only the second time in the club’s entirety. Our defeat of Leeds was one of the greatest upsets of all time. Not even the most romantic of predictions gave us hope of emerging from Wembley victorious against the Don Revie’s mighty Leeds team. We were dismissed as second division fodder unable to handle the current cup holder’s superior prowess- of rising to the occasion on the day. But our counter-attacking spirit remained constant and we held out on Porterfield’s goal and shocked the footballing world. Still today, it is remembered as THE cup upset in the FA Cup’s history. Our team displayed that day a lack of fear instilled in them by their new manager Stokoe; showing no awe of their opposition, tackling fiercely and fighting unrelentingly, never accepting that they were unable to beat any opponent put before them, regardless of their seeming supremacy. Perhaps I’m looking for the resemblances with that cup winning team and manager of ’73 and the new Sunderland of today. But the new positive mentality and relenting attacking performance displayed already under O’Neill in the last few weeks, undeniably displays those attributes the 1973 cup winners were accredited for: showing no fear and holding an intense belief in your own ability to win. The Man City game epitomizes this- the pure conviction and motivation to get the win against the league leaders paid off- the players now have assurance in their own ability, and if they play to that they know that they can beat anyone.
O’Neill has already said that he recognizes the FA Cup as the best chance the club have of attaining silverware and ending the almost 40 year drought since Stokoe’s famous win. Of course, it is early days, we’ve only progressed one round past struggling Championship opposition; but in the words of our new manager “Having said that, I don’t see why you shouldn’t dream about something.” And why can’t we?