After a good run of form to start the New Year Sunderland hosted the league leaders, Wycombe, in a crunch game. Last weekend we earned a vital three points with a 3-1 win over Lincoln, where a tremendous first half performance sealed the victory. However, this game against The Chairboys would be a bigger test given their league position. Fortunately, the game arrived at a convenient time for us as Gareth Ainsworth’s side have struggled recently with one draw and three defeats in their previous four league fixtures. Hopefully, we could use this in our favour and really have a go at them in “our house.”
Unsurprisingly, Phil Parkinson fielded an unchanged Sunderland line-up for this game. It seems that he has found a group of players that work well together, with a good balance of attacking threat and defensive stability. We have actually improved as a unit since Aiden McGeady has been left out of the squad. Nobody can fault McGeady’s quality, but he is such a talented individual player that he didn’t benefit the team as a whole because the other players were more focussed on giving the ball to him than trying to create goalscoring opportunities. It’s almost certain that he will be offloaded this window, with interest from the Championship and even some teams in America.
The visitor's line-up obviously had plenty of quality otherwise they wouldn’t be sitting at the top of the table. Adebayo Akinfenwa, their most well known player, had to settle for a place on the bench to begin with. The striker, known as “The Beast”, is simply massive, making his hold up play extremely difficult to deal with. As for their starting lineup, Alex Samuel led the line with two wingers beside him in a 4-3-3 formation. Darius Charles started at the back, the player who scored the only goal in the reverse fixture at Adams’ Park earlier in the season. The game would have many more goals on this occasion...
The game commenced with tangible optimism, which was unusual considering we were playing the league leaders. It almost felt as if we were the team at the top of the table rather than them, which is the mentality that the players should have given the size of the club. The first few spells of possession went in Wycombe’s favour, with a couple of half chances. However, we took the lead at the opposite end with just six minutes gone, the exact start that we needed. Denver Hume played a brilliant ball along the line to Lynden Gooch, who delivered his cross into the path of Charlie Wyke to tap in from close range, 1-0.
Everyone knew that we couldn’t stop attacking at this point, that we had to go for more goals and we did exactly that. Charlie Wyke almost snatched his second of the game with just twelve minutes played but luckily for Wycombe he headed against the outside of the post. The lead was soon doubled with an immense team goal involving Wyke, Maguire, Willis and Hume. A spell of quick and direct passing forced an opening for Jordan Willis on the wing, who fired a dangerous delivery along the face of goal. It was Denver Hume who converted with real confidence, netting his first Sunderland goal to make it 2-0. The game was virtually done and dusted with less than half an hour gone when Chris Maguire’s penalty sent the goalkeeper the wrong way, 3-0. That was all for another impeccable first half performance, everything we touched just seemed to turn to gold.
Wycombe knew that they would need to improve drastically to even have a chance in this game. Their first half substitute, Adebayo Akinfenwa, did add a slightly different dynamic for the visitors, mainly due to the presence he brings. His introduction was not enough though as the search for a fourth goal continued into the second half. Chances kept falling for us but it just wouldn’t come with Wyke and Gooch both coming close to adding insult to injury for Wycombe. The fourth goal did arrive in brilliant fashion when Chris Maguire’s free kick cannoned in off the underside of the crossbar from distance. Luckily for Wycombe that would be the final goal of the game, with a rampant victory in the end.
I think the factor that contributed to this result the most was the clear improvement in fitness levels of late. The lads’ looked much more willing to run and pressure the Wycombe defence, in the same way that we hassled Lincoln last weekend. This work ethic is helping us create many more goalscoring chances compared to the beginning of the season, when we lacked energy in important areas. On top of this we are also looking more solid defensively, with yet another clean sheet. Credit has to be given to Phil Parkinson for this sudden turn around, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is the saying that springs to mind. We appear to have turned the corner and if we can keep gathering this momentum, taking each game as it comes and really having a go at defences then there’s no reason why we can’t be playing Championship football next season.