GIVEN the uncertainty which continues to cling to Sunderland, it is something of a relief the red-and-white agenda this afternoon is Crystal clear.
Upheaval revisited the Stadium of Light this week, with the Lee Congerton era beginning officially on Wednesday afternoon. A new executive – the second de facto director of football in just under 12 months – is certain to bring with him a new direction, fresh ideas and quite possibly an alternative football philosophy to Roberto De Fanti.
Gus Poyet inserted himself in the layer of management which separated owner Ellis Short and the Italian former agent in the weeks and months following his appointment, but Congerton arrives with his seal of approval. Quite where we go from here remains uncertain – Sunderland remaining largely hostages to fortune.
There is also the prospect of yet another scouting overhaul after Valentino Angeloni was ushered towards the exit in the week. The reign of a man whose appointment saw the British-based scouts cleared out and replaced by those who jetted in from Italy on a weekly basis will be unlamented.
With so much still to sort out, the Sunderland we see next season is likely to be very, very different from the team which trots out at the Stadium of Light this afternoon to play in a fixture crucial to the Black Cats’ ambitions of staying in the Premier League. Yet, for all that, today is a day of certainties for Poyet and his men.
First up, they need to win. No ifs, no buts and certainly “no excuses” if you listen to Poyet’s stirring pre-match rhetoric.
Secondly, Fabio Borini must be the first name on the Sunderland team sheet – and he must play through the middle in the striking role he performs better than anyone else at the club. Forget Jozy Altidore, the increasingly frustrating but ever-so-ocassionally inspired target man.
Ignacio Scocco may, in time, be an asset to the red-and-white cause.
The less said about Steven Fletcher’s (pictured left) downturn in fortunes, the better.
Borini is the answer to the problem which has hamstrung Sunderland in their home games against the division’s flyweights this season.
Against Fulham, Aston Villa and Norwich the Black Cats dropped eight points despite having more than enough chances to win those games. The common theme which runs through them is a lack of a striker cute enough to nick the goals which could change the game.
Enter Borini, whose absence last week caused consternation among Sunderland fans still raw at being sent tumbling out of the FA Cup.
The week before he had been inspired at Wembley – a man-of-the-match performance which also saw him angle a classy opening goal against Manchester City.
He is key to everything this afternoon – Sunderland taking their chances, playing cleverly to the Poyet plan and finally leading the line with a little bit more sophistication than his striking team-mates.
Borini is also, by his own admission, a man for the big stage.
He said: “I like the tension of these games because it makes sure you are focused and it always makes you think about the game.
“You can feel the tension at the training ground because we all want to win.
“All we are thinking about is the game and I like the have that pressure and that tension. We are all thriving on the challenge we have.
“When you get to these games you don’t need to tell people how important it is because they recognise it and they can feel the tension. We have 12 games left and there’s still a long way to go, but hopefully our league can start now and we’ll see what’s going to happen.”
With Cup congestion out of the way, Borini is leading the calls for a united front against relegation.
He added: “Now more than ever we have to be together and help each other because it isn’t going to be easy. There will be hard moments which we need to get through together.
“That’s the only way we can be because we don’t have a Cristiano Ronaldo in the team who can solve the game on his own. If we want to solve a game and win it we have to do it together. I’m happy to have the pressure on my shoulders, but to be honest Cristiano has scored 23 goals in 23 league games so he almost scores more than what he plays.
“I’ve scored six in 29 games. There are 12 games to go, but I can’t compare myself to him.”
A big-game player should be at home in a big game like today’s.
He said: “I have scored a lot of important goals and Saturday is an important game. It’s good for me.
“I like when there is expectation around you. It’s not forced, but you feel like you need to give that little bit more than the previous week. That’s how you improve and how the team improves. When they see you give a little bit extra they appreciate that.”
Whatever Congerton brings to the party, a new striker might well be required.
The best way to describe Borini at the moment is ‘non-committal’ when requested to speak on his long-term ambitions.
While Sunderland would dearly love to try and broker a permanent deal for a player who has improved markedly since Poyet took over, it is not especially likely.
Borini added: “I could give you a different answer every day because I don’t really know what will happen, but I know I will give 100 per cent to make the decision in the summer easy. I’m happy to play full stop.”
Surely, though, Borini must be given a chance to prove himself in the central role that he impressed so much in at Wembley?
The forward explains the thinking behind playing to the left.
He said: “My natural position is up front and I’ve always played there, but we’ve found a balance with me playing on the left defensively and when we attack I can push into a more central position.”
This afternoon, Poyet must hand him a chance to concentrate on one thing – leading the line.
It is a strategy certain to land Sunderland the goals and wins they need.