Prior to Sunderland’s fixture against AFC Wimbledon, the club released a series of training ground videos.
Normally, these snippets are designed to show a squad hard at work, ready to face the challenges of the weekend’s upcoming fixture. They tend to provide very little insight into the day-to-day rigours of a professional football club.
However, even in a couple of two-minute clips of the first team squad going through some routine passing drills it exposed a side to Sunderland supporters have not seen in years. There
were smiling faces, laughing and joking, a competitive edge and an all-round humiliation of Lyden Gooch when he was nutmegged by manager Jack Ross.
The subsequent verbal ribbing that came the American’s way was laughed off with a knowing smile but it highlighted a hugely important factor of Sunderland’s renaissance in League One – team spirit.
In recent years, we have talked of a fractured dressing room with a supposed “rotten core” but since Ross’ arrival it has changed around significantly.
As football club’s rely more and more heavily on social media to promote their own content, supporters are given a peak behind the curtain into the daily lives of the players that pull on the
shirt. Manchester City’s ‘All or Nothing’ documentary revealed to us that Pep Guardiola says “guys” a lot but it demonstrated the togetherness of a squad and how they celebrated even the most inconsequential victory with such vigour.
Sunderland supporters are given a brief glimpse into the new regime but what they are seeing is a squad seemingly united. The manager is getting involved in training drills, goalkeeping coach Jimmy Walker is busting out dance moves, midfielder Max Power is documenting every single movement of defender Donald Love and stalwart Lee Cattermole is putting an experienced arm around youth players.
It is this team spirit that can fire Sunderland back into the Championship. Away from Ross’ astute tactical acumen both before and during games, the Scot has instilled an excellent camaraderie around the squad. He has brought in players that not only have the technical ability but also provide the off-field qualities that you need to craft a promotion-winning team.
Each player knows they are playing for the man stood beside them. That is why when this team is faced with adversity it does not shirk responsibility. In three of Sunderland’s first five league games, they have fallen behind and in each case they have galvanised and fought back to claim victory.
The double header against Gillingham and AFC Wimbledon presented Sunderland with different challenges, of which they overcame with flying colours. While at Priestfield it was a case of blowing away the opposition, at Kingsmeadow it was digging deep to find an answer to one of their biggest challenges of the season.
As the club cameras panned to each player leaving the field in south London, each displayed a face of jubilation. They embraced each other like a band of brothers, they smiled as they high-fived and revved up a fervent and buoyant support. This collective team spirit is one that Ross has instilled and – over time – has the potential to propel Sunderland to promotion.