By George Friend, the Middlesbrough defender
IT may be wet, windy with high tides across England, but here in the North-East, Sunderland are riding on the crest of a wave.
In a week that started with the Black Cats sitting at the bottom of the Premier League table, Gus Poyet’s men have now stormed up to 14th.
With a Wembley final on the horizon, are Sunderland now on the rise with the prospect of more and more valuable points flooding in?
If their display against rivals Newcastle United is anything to go by, then the remainder of the season should be a breeze.
Poyet seems to have guided a struggling side into a well-organised yet still exciting team. The signing of Liam Bridcutt is a real boost, as the ex-Brighton man should slot perfectly into his preferred sitting midfield role.
Having played against him a number of times, his composure and ball retention make him a real talent and highly competent in his position. Bridcutt’s arrival will also allow the gifted Ki Sung-Yueng, who has been fantastic this season, to move higher up the pitch, with a bit more freedom.
For Adam Johnson the influx of goals and assists have come in at the right time, when it rains it pours for the flying winger. He has found some terrific form, which could well earn him a place in Roy Hodgson’s England squad this summer.
Domestically you can’t help but feel that Johnson’s form will be vital in Sunderland’s progression.
Poyet seems to have reignited the winger’s confidence, with the ex- Manchester City man redemonstrating his lightening pace that puts fear into Premier League defenders.
Last season we (Boro) played Sunderland in the Capital One Cup and I thought Johnson was relatively quiet. He didn’t cause too many problems, which I was very happy about. He is now displaying some incredible performances, his hat-trick and assist against Fulham is probably the highlight.
The 26-year-old seems determined to blow over any full-back and deliver a hurling ball into the back of net. It’s refreshing to have a traditional winger on the top of his game and Sunderland are certainly benefiting.
Plaudits and acclaim has deservedly been raining down on the Black Cats defence. The once ostracised Phil Bardsley, who was frozen out by Paolo Di Canio, has been playing superbly with his ex-Manchester Utd team-mates Wes Brown and John O’Shea.
Left-back, Marcos Alonso, on-loan from ACF Fiorentina, a January acquisition, seems to be fitting in well. I played against him when he was at Bolton and he showed his quality then in the Championship. He has a cultured left-foot and I’m very interested to see how he does in the Premier League.
With fans and the media pouring huge amounts of praise on Poyet, he and his players will be wary of how the tides can turn, in what is branded the best and toughest league in the world.
There’s belief and excitement at the Stadium of Light and through the Uruguayan’s management and the players excellent form, it seems the wind of change is blowing through this club.