What a difference ninety-odd minutes can make, eh? Sunderland, backed by a bumper travelling support larger in number than several total attendances in the division, showed that there’s been a football team in there all along by deservedly beating Doncaster 2-1.
A later than usual start meant that we spent sat in traffic while others enjoyed the pleasures of Donny town centre, and we parked up in the official car park before taking the cross-country path to the ground - only to find that the queue in the Belle Vue bar was out of the door. After a chance encounter with Frank Lampard senior - “All reet, Frank, nowt worth watching here” - the discussion of the day’s team was mostly centred on the inclusion of Lynch, whose last couple of performances had left us wondering if we’d bought Bet rather than Joel. We lined up:
Willis Ozturk Lynch
O’Nien Power Dobson Hume
Maguire Wyke Gooch
For some reason, Donny wore their third choice kit of green, meaning that we could wear the stripes and kick off away from the north end where the 4,000 visitors were housed – and in fine voice, despite the general mood on Wearside over the Christmas period. We’d bemoaned the absence of pace in the team for most of the season, but Gooch and Hume were in the mood to counter those moans, while Dobson, although no Linford Christie, proved more mobile than Leadbitter. From very early on, we pushed Donny back and pinned them largely in their own half, which kept the good mood amongst the fans before kick-off going. With the home defence seemingly a bit shocked at the enthusiasm of our positive approach (perhaps they thought we were as bad as the things reported in the media), Wyke had an early effort blocked, with Maguire’s resultant corner flying through the box. We fans were probably as taken aback as the Donny players and their silent followers by our approach, and it didn’t take long for that approach to pay off. Gooch, who’d spent a while on the right, cut in and fired a curler off his left peg that left the keeper grasping thin air as it flew inside his right hand post. A real beaut, the sort that would lift a foul atmosphere and make an already jolly one even jollier. Which it did, and only six minutes gone.
While Hume zipped down the left, getting in a cross when he could, Gooch seemed to be everywhere across the field behind Wyke, giving the home side no time to settle. When the ball did get into our half, Lynch, Willis, and Ozturk won the headers – fairly straightforward stuff, really. Big Chas shot over the top before Doncaster managed to forge a chance of their own, but it went inches wide of the foot of Mclaughlin’s left-hand post, to sharp intakes of breath across the visitors’ end. That was after ten minutes of football that had been the best we’d played in an age, and while we took the collective foot of the pedal a tad thereafter, we were still way on top. After more good work down the left, Hume found Wyke, and the big feller looked to have nabbed the second with a shot across the goal – but the keeper flung himself left to tip it away for another corner. Maguire was varying these dead-balls, some high and some low, and O’Nien got on the end of one, but couldn’t control or get an effort in.
On the half hour, O’Nien produced some seriously good defending to hold off their man as he ran into the box, with Mclaughlin sensibly opting not to charge into the fray, then Lynch repeated his dancing twazzle to spin away from two attackers on halfway and raise another cheer from our end. We seem to have worked out that the best balls to play to Charlie are not above his head, but into his chest or at head height. He was getting no response from the ref despite the fearful battering he was taking, but he kept at it to good effect.
Despite all of our impressive endeavour, we got caught on the break as they played it wide to their left, it was hit low across the box and their man smacked it low, just inside the near post. McLaughlin was down on it, but it squirmed through between his elbow and his body and in. He’ll probably feel he could have done a tad better, but so could both of our fullbacks on that occasion. Typical Sunderland, letting the opposition score with their first shot on target and with the half-time tea already brewing.
We won a free in what, a couple of weeks ago, would have been classed as McGeady territory, but Maguire was revelling in the role of senior worky-ticket today. He placed the ball, in the inside-left position and twenty-plus yards out, we decided it was going to the top far corner, and we were inches out. It smacked the bar and flew up and over, two extra minutes were announced “to make up for time lost” according to the announcer. We’d done extremely well for ten minutes, very well for the next twenty or so, and had a bit more defensive work to do in the last fifteen – in short, we’d done more than enough to be ahead.
The chat during the break was surprisingly up-beat considering they’d levelled and the mood in previous days could easily have shattered the fans’ jollity at a game which we’d dominated. More of the same, we thought – and that’s what we got. We started the second period in the manner of the middle of the first half, confident and in control. Dobson upped his game and won the ball back a few times before Maguire won a free on the right after interplay with O’Nien – something that would feature more and more as the afternoon progressed. He fired in a cross to the near post, Ozturk headed it on, and Wyke arrived at the back post. Unfortunately, only a yard or so out, he was under the ball and it went off his boot and over the bar. Seemingly impossible, but there you go.
McLaughlin was forced into action, sprinting across the box to punch clear and take a knock that kept him grounded for a bit, but he was eventually up and fully functioning. Lynch, up for a corner, hit a cross back in, and it pinged about a bit before the inevitable cries of “handball” preceding the eventual clearance. It’d have been ten minutes of VAR pondering in the Prem, as it would have been at the other end when the burst forward and we had to fling bodies in the way of things. We had a couple of breaks down the left, and Hume would probably have been better off letting fly and seeing what happened on more than one occasion, instead opting to cut it back. Gooch earned booking for making it very obvious that he was going to get his man, even though he didn’t quite, and seemed to twang something a bit in the process. He still put the miles in, and the closing down, but was slower to rise after challenges thereafter. Fifteen minutes in, he and Hume worked in down the left again, and this time Denver’s cut back was precise, leaving the defenders wrong-footed to find Maguire on the edge of the box. Despite there being a veritable forest of legs in the way, he planted in firmly into the net, low to the keeper’s right, and sparking scenes of celebration that spilled onto the grass.
Retaking the lead seemed to calm us down after the almost frantic manner in which we’d sought the second goal, and Maguire and O’Nien took to the right wing to try and replicate the success of the left. However, it was from the left that we nearly sewed things up. After McLaughlin had pulled of a cracking save low to his right, collecting the rebound off a defender as well, we surged up-field and Gooch’s cross to the back post was perfect, and O’Nien’s header had us up in celebration – but the keeper somehow got a hand to it and it was away. An impossible save from just under the bar, and at point-blank range.
O’Nien, Wyke, and Maguire won a string of throws down the right, and a foul on O’Nien showed the home defence’s frustration at our controlling of proceedings. They were probably pretty miffed when Luke rolled over so many times that he completed a full circle, then grinned at his cheering supporters as he jogged into the box. For the last ten minutes, those home defenders were treated to Watmore running at them after he replaced, understandably, Gooch. We roared them on, they responded by teasing Donny and seeing out the added four minutes. There were great celebrations at the final whistle, a release of emotions that had built up over recent weeks, and it was wonderful to be leaving a match with a smile on our collective faces.
OK, it’s only one match, but the most important thing the Lads could do was win it, and they did. The next most important thing was that they did it with a bit of panache, with a lot of hard work, and a lot of enthusiasm – and they did that as well. Should Wednesday at Fleetwood witness a similar performance and result, things will be a lot more positive when Lincoln line up on Saturday. There’s been a lot of co-ordinated screaming for change, and rightly so, but there’s nothing I’d like more than for us to win the next two games and get all happy again. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still an awful lot of stuff that needs to happen at SAFC, but winning games is the most immediate necessity, and the most visible indicator of how a club is doing. Other things are longer term.
Man of the Match? Wyke had a terrific afternoon, with some of his footwork out on the right lending weight to the rumour that Mo Salah wears Charlie Wyke pyjamas. Dobson grew into things, allowing Power to be more effective and forward-facing. For once, nobody had a bad game, but for me, it goes to Maguire for stepping up to be the main man, and for scoring the crucial winner.
Happy day, make it happy days, please, Lads