Good old Sunderland continued our Wembley hangover cure with a hard-earned three points at Spotland, having to come back from a wobbly first half that saw us fall behind. Goals from Big Chas and Honeyman, the latter a late, late effort, won the day in a determined display that once again epitomised the spirit in the squad.
With Wembley well and truly out of the way following the Accy antics, the big run-in continued today at Rochdale, a ground we’d only visited in one competition – our first game in the Checkatrade Trophy. Unsure of how the competition was structured, I left the ground disappointed and woke the next morning with a speeding ticket and bafflement as we were still in the competition, as we’d drawn and lost on penalties. How was I to know that the pens were only for a bonus point? Anyway, we spent the morning hearing the last of the Wembley tales, and finding out that the Jackson/Willis party had indeed dealt comfortably with the jug of Cheeky V that I’d presented them with on Sunday evening. Worries on the fitness of McGeady were aired, as were thoughts that our squad was big and clever enough to deal with a few injuries. Arriving in Rochdale fairly early, we joined the other Reed and Whites in the Flying Horse, then in the sunshine of the Baum garden (German speakers will understand)before the cheapest taxi ride in the UK to a sun-drenched Spotland (or some oil-based stadium name) where we occupied one side and part of one end.
O’Nien Baldwin Flanagan Hume
McGeough Power ©
With McGeady’s knock still a problem, it was a straight swap for Morgan, and we kicked off to the right from where I was in the main body of the visiting fans. There wasn’t much flowing football in the opening exchanges, as McGeouch tried to get it wide but our wingers ran into determined defence, but we did manage the first shot when Dinky Dylan had a go from outside the box. It was no problem for the home keeper, though, but on the quarter hour he had to work a lot harder when Gooch put a cross onto Wyke’s head and it looked destined for the top corner. The game looked to be waiting for either side to get a grip of it, and our patience, especially from McGeough, seemed to be the key, although we just weren’t getting the shots on target.
Then it all went a bit Pete Tong just before the half hour, when a cross from their right went way over everybody but was put back in and we granted them all the space in the world, with Henderson having what seemed like an age to control and shoot home. I do believe that was their first effort on target. Knackers – but we surely had enough to get back into the game, even if Rochdale were showing their determination to try and get away from second bottom with a lot of hard work.
Gooch went down injured and didn’t get back up properly, so on came Captain George in a straight swap, although he was more inclined to cut inside than Lynden – as you’d expect. They kept us on the back foot as we struggled to impose ourselves on the game and fired another effort just wide five minutes after the goal. Thankfully, we composed ourselves and held them off, even if we were yet to produce any real structure in our play. Having got ourselves steady, we held out for half time, with three added minutes being played in which we finally started to look like Sunderland. O’Nien, back to his usual enthusiastic self, did well to play in Power, who hit a decent effort that required a save.
We headed into the break wondering what Ross was going to include in his half time talk and hoped that it included instructions on how to impose ourselves on technically inferior but very hard working opposition who were fighting to preserve their League One status. Whatever he said, it worked, as we came out looking like a different side. Ten minutes in, Hume played a good if fairly simple ball to Wyke in the box, and, in what appeared slow motion in that it was so precise, Chas turned his man and fired the ball low inside the post to the keeper’s left. Boom, gerrinnnn! Fans all awwa the place, cuddling each other and praying that it was the start of a proper comeback. It so nearly was a couple of minutes later when good play saw Homeyman sprint down the right and put in decent cross, but Grigg couldn’t get onto it and Rochdale cleared. Just after the hour, Hume made way for Oviedo, and our attacking options increased his crossing ability. There was still plenty of fight in the home side, however, and it took a good save from McLaughlin when Baldwin’s last-ditch clearance looked to be destined for his own net, then another when Henderson looked for his second with a header.
Certainly, getting lively, and as we entered the final ten O’Nien went on one of his energetic run, and crossed into the box where McGeough arrived in the right place – but leant back and put his effort over the bar. Would a draw be good enough? Scores were coming in, and it seemed that both Barnsley and Luton were slipping up – would we be satisfied with the one point, bearing those scores in mind? Not really, so the 4,000ish travelling fans roared the Lads on, and won a load of corners, and a few free-kicks as the home defending got a bit panicky. Sterling replaced Morgan with about twelve to go and we basically went three up top in an effort to win the game. Flanagan came closest with a header, but it was a comfortable save for their keeper. Just as the fourth official was setting up the number six on his board, O’Nien again went to the by-line to fire in a low cross, and Honeyman was in exactly the right place to side-foot home from a few yards out. Don’t you just love last-minute winners? I do, and so does the rest of the Wearside football family, who went ballistic, spilling onto the pitch in wild celebration. Those six added minutes saw us hold out fairly comfortably, as Rochdale’s spirit had been deflated by our second goal, but we still had to stay on our toes. When the whistle went, the players celebrated as if we’d won the FA Cup, or at least a decent prize on the lottery. The togetherness was shown as they stormed around the field, high-fiving and hugging each other, and the fans bounced around the stands doing likewise.
A big win? Too damn right, and I don’t give a monkey’s that it was “only” Rochdale. They were spirited opponents – far more spirited that Accy on Wednesday – and all we can do is beat the sides we come up against.
Man of the Match? Another stonking display from McGeough, who is getting games at just the right time. After a slightly quiet, by his standards, Wembley from O’Nien, young Luke was rocking all over Spotland and giving their defence a hard time as well as stopping them getting down the line. Wyke had another fine game, showing that two up front is a potent option, and being rewarded with a goal. Chas it is, then. Onwards and upwards...