Here’s our latest column for safc.com…
As the referee pointed to the penalty spot and dismissed Max Power for an off-the-ball incident, it was hard not to fear the worst.
After working so hard to put ourselves into a commanding position, we suddenly found ourselves down to ten men with a penalty to face. In years gone by, this would almost certainly have resulted in defeat, but this is a new Sunderland, a resilient Sunderland.
Jon McLaughlin impressively saved the aforementioned penalty and an impeccably-timed tackle from Tom Flannagan ensured that the rebound didn’t find its way into the back of the net.
From that moment on, there was no way that the lads were going to surrender the lead, bodies were put on the line all over the pitch and despite there being no fit striker on the pitch for the last five minutes, plus seven minutes added time, Bradford’s defence was pressed with great intensity.
The crowd responded to this grit and determination by roaring every tackle, clearance and act of gamesmanship to run the clock down.
At the final whistle the jubilation and relief was there for all to see as the away end and players shouted themselves hoarse at each other. It was a moment which epitomised the new-found togetherness at the club and nobody embodies that more than the toast of Wearside, physics deifier and all-around top lad, Chris Maguire.
Eyebrows were raised when we signed the versatile attacking midfielder from relegated Bury on a free transfer. But Maguire has so far repaid every bit of faith invested in him by Jack Ross and the new ownership team.
His on-field attitude has been a physical representation of all the attributes valued by the Sunderland fan base. Not only has he given his all every time he’s been on the pitch, but he has demonstrated moments of quality which will gain us a number of points as the season goes on; his first touch, use of his body and delivery into the box has been a joy to watch at times.
His control and pass for Jerome Sinclair’s goal against Peterborough was an example of that quality and he has provided other key assists and goals of his own.
The signing of Maguire also exemplifies a change in transfer strategy at the club, in years gone by our signings have been impressive in terms of pedigree; but they haven’t been suitable for the club in terms of attitude or how they fit into a formation or tactical setup.
As Stewart Donald has stated on a number of occasions, Maguire was desperate to join Sunderland and he clearly relishes the challenges and expectations of playing for a big club. At Bradford, he was immense as the lads saw the game out in the final ten minutes, pressurising their back four, winning free kicks and being an all-round nuisance to the hosts.
As the clock ticked down he even found time to conduct the away end, which was met by a deafening roar.
Over the years, we’ve had a number of Scottish cult heroes such as Bobby Kerr, Billy Hughes, Allan Johnston, Alex Rae and FA Cup winner, Ian Porterfield, and if Maguire keeps up this level of performance there is every chance Maguire will join the esteemed list.
Things didn’t work out for him at Bury for a number of reasons, but right now, Chris Maguire is both the hero we want and the hero we need.