Now that the dust has settled on Saturday’s epic comeback, the potential impact it could have on the remainder of the season becomes clearer. The finish not only demonstrated, as we have done so many times this season, that this group of players don’t know when they’re beaten, but was a testament to the strength in depth of the squad. The victory was achieved with only one of Sunderland’s top six goal-scorers starting the game in Lynden Gooch. Despite this, we were still capable of responding to going behind, in part, due to the number of goals we have across our squad.
Of course, every team needs a main source of goals. We’ve been fortunate this season that when Josh Maja left, Aiden McGeady stepped up and replaced him to keep our promotion push on course. Half of the Irishman’s fourteen goals this season have been scored in the two months since the youngster left for Bordeaux. But the very best sides have goals across the team. Take Saturday’s opponents for instance. Rochdale sit second bottom of the league despite having eighteen-goal Ian Henderson in their ranks, the league’s third highest goal-scorer. The issue is, he has fourteen more league goals than anyone else at the club this season.
Though Maja and McGeady are our top scorers by some way, there has been a sizeable core of players who have been chipping in all season to take the pressure off them. Lee Cattermole, Lynden Gooch, George Honeyman and Chris Maguire have each contributed six goals, whilst Luke O’Nien has five despite playing right back for most of the campaign. This is without even mentioning Charlie Wyke, Will Grigg and Kaziah Sterling, our remaining strikers, who have all made an impact in recent weeks. Their growing contributions could see this quality expand further.
This distribution of goals is unprecedented in recent seasons. Last season’s reliance on Lewis Grabban meant that he finished our top goal-scorer by some way despite playing his last game for us before Christmas. In the few years before that, Jermain Defoe almost single-handedly keep our heads above water before it became too much for even him to manage. We were one-dimensional and easy to play against, without many quality players who could trouble the opposition, even with a fully fit squad.
More importantly, this isn’t a luxury all our promotion rivals have. Barnsley have failed to score in four of the nine games they’ve played since Kieffer Moore’s season was ended by a head injury. Though their resolute defence had seen them through this rocky patch, they could not prevent Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at the hands of Burton. Titles and promotions are won by grinding out results, and inconsistency like that can only hinder any promotion push. Though the number of games we’ve drawn is far from ideal, we’ve only lost two games all season. Apart from the 0-0 draw at Oakwell, we’ve found the net in every league game. The amount of goals in our team has snatched us points where we probably didn’t deserve them, and kept us in the hunt for promotion.
As the season reaches its climax, this spread of quality becomes all the more important. The fixtures are piling up, and when that happens, generally so do injuries. There is less than a month to go of the season and seven games to be played; at this rate, a minor knock which might rule someone out for a couple of weeks could see them miss three of four fixtures. In this respect, Sunderland have less to fear than most. As Saturday proved, there is nobody in our team that we cannot win football matches without.