North Stander: Invaluable 10-game run ahead. Meaningless? No way... I’m feeling more optimistic
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North Stander Terry Hunt has accepted it’s League One next season for Town... But recent performances have given him more optimism
The countdown starts now.
Ten games left before we say goodbye to the Championship – for the time being at least.
I’ve heard people who say the remainder of the season will be a miserable, meaningless procession. I can understand that viewpoint – but I don’t agree with it.
Surely this ten-game run-in will be invaluable for Paul Lambert and the players?
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By the end of the season, he needs to really understand what he’s got in terms of players, who he wants to keep, who he’ll let go, the gaps he needs to fill.
For the players, it’s a long audition for next season in League One.
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Impress the boss, and you’ll have a good chance of playing a big role in what we all hope will be a promotion campaign.
On the other hand, fail to impress Lambert, and you could be placed firmly on the ‘Not Wanted’ list.
We have a lot of players with a great deal to play for.
Take Jon Nolan, for example. For most of the season, he has not reached the high standards we were expecting from him when Paul Hurst brought him in.
But in the last month or so, Nolan has been showing definite signs of becoming an important player for us.
On Saturday, he produced a man-of-the-match display, his best performance for Town.
Add the threat of goals, and it looks as though Nolan will have a key role for us next season.
We haven’t had a goal scoring midfielder since Tommy Miller!
Then there’s another Hurst signing, Gwion Edwards. After a terrific start, Edwards went backwards, but is now producing the goods again.
Kayden Jackson is another one. He shows glimpses, but only glimpses.
So to suggest that the remaining games are a waste of time is simply wrong.
If they’re anything like Saturday at the Hawthorns, they’ll be very easy on the eye. Maybe we’re playing with more freedom now relegation is inevitable.
Of course, the most admirable aspect of this otherwise terrible season has been the loyalty of the fans.
Lambert, quite rightly, has regularly said how remarkable it is when the team’s results have been so poor.
Let’s hope that loyalty is recognised and rewarded when the season ticket prices are announced in the coming weeks.
When I said in this column that I expected to pay about £300 in League One instead of more than £500, a few people accused me of being unrealistic, or even disloyal.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be there in my seat whatever the cost, but my thinking is that, above everything else, the prices should be at a level which attracts good crowds and creates a buzzing atmosphere.
That could be the equivalent of a new signing, and it was interesting to see Lambert saying he would accept a lower transfer budget if it was because season ticket prices had been set at an attractive level. Over to you, Mr. Evans.
Talking of the owner, the financial figures released by the club make illuminating reading.
They do tell their own story, confirming that the club is reaping what it has been sowing in terms of financial outlay.
There simply hasn’t been enough investment for us to remain competitive.
I don’t suppose that’s going to change while Evans owns the club, so there is little point in banging on about it.
More than ever, it means we have to rely on producing our own, home-grown talent, and there’s plenty of that coming through.
It could be interesting next season, with a mixture of McCarthy veterans – Bart, Chambers and Skuse – a sprinkling of Hurst signings – Nolan, Jackson and Edwards – along with our own youngsters and some summer arrivals.
Now we’ve all accepted relegation, I’m able to look forward with more optimism.
I certainly don’t think League One will be a walk in the park – Sunderland are by no means guaranteed to go up, for example – but at least we will surely be winning games.
After the dreadful last year and a bit, we should be thankful for small mercies.