We drew with Oxford. No big deal, right? It’s not the end of the world or anywhere near it. In fact, if you take some time to think about things there was an awful lot of positivity about today’s performance. There are points to address, of that there can be little doubt, but the positives are there if you look for them. Let’s deal with the negatives first though. For long periods in the game we looked equal at best to a team who have had an unremarkable start to the season. In many ways that is a big worry because while Oxford had a midweek match we had a break, meaning there was no excuse for legginess or fatigue. We have had all week to focus on this one match. You would possibly have expected a Sunderland team with that talent on display to roar into the match and rip Oxford apart. Perhaps, however, that is precisely the issue. In building impressive early form, Sunderland have waved a flag to the other teams in the division. For away teams the team talk is easy. This may be one of the biggest crowds many of them play in front of. It’s their cup final and whatever they have in the tank needs to be poured out on to that pitch. We need to learn to deal with that both as a team and as a fan base.
Bearing in mind it’s their cup final, the opposition will deploy any tactics they see fit. Oxford delved into the shithousery bag. I will never criticise a team for doing everything they can to win. Well, that’s not strictly true as my hoarse voice will confirm, but ultimately Oxford did their homework. They knew that if they wound us up and held tight then things may go their way. It was their game plan. Sunderland fell for it hook, line and sinker. The referee’s inconsistency and general incompetence assisted them but ultimately Oxford knew what they had to do. The match had 36 fouls today. 8 yellow cards and a straight red. There is little doubt that the officials were, well, officious. Sunderland were naive though. They walked into the Oxford game plan, lost their heads and before you had finished your pie were down to ten men. We need to tighten that mentality up.
The positives were on display too though. The fact that Gooch had a swarm of men around him every time he got the ball meant that recognition of his ability is seeping into the tactical planning of opposition managers. Imagine if we could utilise that. Two men on Gooch means one less on McGeouch. Charlie Wyke scored 7 minutes into his debut. The faintest of touches but there is no concern about that first goal anymore. He looked like he was lacking a bit of sharpness but those big shoulders and bullying attitude showed great promise. Maja was freed by the introduction of a hold up man and we saw some of that natural skill. His finishing was poor today but Wyke gave him a different side to his game. The ball he played across just prior to the goal showed what’s in his locker in the right environment. McGeouch was a wasp in front of defence when he came on. Energetic and industrious and there was one sliding tackle which was an absolute joy to behold.
The final piece of positivity sits in the seat next to you. Whereas previous seasons have seen the crowd turn, today the fans helped massively. To play with ten men for that long is hard. You need something to help you along. The faithful never lost faith. Pat yourselves on the back. You got us a point today. Well done lads and lasses.