The stunning stat that will have Sunderland fans dreaming of Premier League return
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Eight minutes in and it was over. Done. Finito. Locate the nearest towel and chuck it in. Thanks for coming, goodnight.
First, big Dan Ballard - whose name, from an etymological standpoint, is presumably a bastardisation of the word ‘bollard’ - came crashing through the rice paper defiance of Sheffield Wednesday’s defence like a combine harvester through a plate glass window to head home the opener. Moments later, Jack Clarke, that slight, inevitable boy prince of the Championship, made it two with another whizz bang of his customary magic.
A third just after the half hour mark - again courtesy of Clarke but this time from the penalty spot - dotted the ‘i’ in ‘3-0 away victory’ with a smiley face. There are certainly worse ways to start a weekend.
Tony Mowbray’s kindergarten wizards have now lost just one of their last seven outings, sit fourth in the table, and, thanks to underwhelming results for both Ipswich Town and Preston North End on Saturday afternoon, are within tangible spitting distance of those above them. With players to return from injury, new signings still to patiently bed into the side, and a steady upwards trajectory from the likes of Jobe Bellingham, Dan Neil, and several others, there are reasons to be zestful, reasons to revel. And if there is one thing we know the sweet-toothed Mowbray adores, perhaps second only to the humble Jaffa Cake, it’s a Revel.
Amid this slew of optimism, however, there is one particular morsel of statistical frippery that truly emboldens. Prior to Leicester City’s late of brace strikes in their 4-1 win over Blackburn Rovers on Sunday, the Black Cats led the Championship in terms of goal difference, with a running tally of +10. Last month’s 5-0 pestling of Southampton certainly hasn’t hurt in that regard, but even beyond that whitewash, Sunderland are sitting pretty. Only Norwich City have scored more times this season, and only the aforementioned Foxes have conceded fewer.
In and of itself, that would be impressive enough, but the real reason why the Mackems should take such heart from their early promise in the GD column is because, as pointed out by the wonderful SAFC Data Analytics on the site FKA Twitter, in 10 of the past 11 Championship campaigns, the division has been won by the team with the best goal difference. To be in that conversation at all, even at this relatively early juncture, would suggest that Sunderland are on the right path.
But it goes deeper still. Imagine a 90-minute game segmented into a sextet of quarter hour periods - 0-15, 15-30, 30-45, so on and so forth. At the time of writing, the Black Cats are the only team in the second tier who have outscored or matched their opponents in each of those six individual windows. In essence, it means that as a general trend, from minute one through to minute 90, they don’t stop creating opportunities for themselves. Mowbray’s side start strong, they finish strong, and in between they manage to maintain a certain amount heft too.
And perhaps the most exhilirating thing is that you fear there is more to come. For a little while now, it has felt as if Sunderland still have gears left to surge into. They are defensively solid without being entirely airtight. They are devastating on the front foot without yet boasting a striker who is scoring freely or frequently. If and when the whole mechanism properly clicks, they could reach levels that many supporters dare not even daydream about.
If we’re being perfectly frank, it is going to take something gargantuan to derail Leicester’s title charge in the coming weeks and months, and in truth, Sunderland probably don’t have what it takes to win the Championship this season. But if the early evidence is anything to go by, they should absolutely there or thereabouts when it comes to the frantic throng of the promotion rat race.