Martin O’Neill and Sunderland AFC: Winter is coming…

by James Hunt

Winter is coming…

Martin O’Neill, Lord of Wearside, has ruled for almost one year now. For all the snow and cold that was in the air back then, the first few months seemed to be the dawn of a glorious, endless summer.

His townsfolk were happy; there was laughter and optimism all around. The dark cloud that had settled over the land towards the end of Barron Bruce’s reign of terror had lifted. For long the people had known hardship, but this was a different time.

There was prosperity and growth. Those who had served so poorly under the previous regime were given a reprieve, and with words of encouragement they flourished.

There was an opportunity for youth, but experienced heads had their place too. Guided by O’Neill’s trusted hands, such as John O’Shea, fledglings like James McClean were given the chance to prove their worth.

A good run in The FA’s annual tournament was a welcome boost, bringing with it increases in both revenue and spirits. They were fast regarded as an up-and-coming power among the rest of the realm.

As is so often the case, success brought both loftier expectations and new challenges. The original spark began to flicker and fade, but nevertheless the people were satisfied.

Seasons changed, men came and went, with a lot of money spent on new imports from across the land. Trade was booming, and the new arrivals were seen as improvements – most had competed in competitions for the kingdoms of their birth – and welcomed warmly. The optimistic air that had swept Wearside at the beginning of O’Neill’s reign took hold once again.

The 2012/13 season was off to a solid start in the nation’s capital, before weather led to the postponement of the opening home contest with the re-emerging town of Reading.

It was a struggle to build momentum; performances were poor, but no losses were suffered. The first victory came at their fortress – the Stadium of Light – against Wigan; the first defeat followed shortly, although it was to the reigning champions.

A defeat at home to Villains from the middle lands, however, led to murmurs of discontent among the citizens. When this was followed with a defeat – albeit with an improved performance – to Everton (where they have not tasted victory in written history) a few village idiots began crying for revolution.

Most of the townsfolk were not so irrational. They still held bitter memories of the dark ages, with the very mention of the days under the rule of Sergeant Wilko enough to send a shudder through most. They know they now have their greatest leader for a decade, and respect how far they’ve come in the past year.

They were vindicated when a trip to the capital proved far more prosperous than previous ventures there. Fulham were the victims in a victory that had moments of magic, the sorcerer Sessegnon finally rediscovering his powers and using them to devastating effect.

Despite this, there is no denying these are somewhat difficult times, and it promises to be a much longer, harder winter than last.

The visit of West Brom, who have surprised many with the improved performances, and QPR, whose struggles outweigh those of Sunderland, come before a trip to Norwich. It does not sound the most daunting of challenges, but nothing can be taken for granted.

The December and yuletide period – one that can make or break a season, leaving a land in riches or ruin – sees contests with the three biggest powers in the kingdom: Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City. This puts added importance on the aforementioned games. After those, the picture of the remainder of the season will be a lot clearer.

The people know what it’s like to be fighting for their lives; to suffer through hardship. They know they have a brilliant leader, and the times are exciting, not desperate. These things, the North (East) remembers.

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