Sunderland faced 23rd place Rochdale yesterday in what was a must win game heading into the final furlong of the season. After a very impressive 3-0 victory away at Accrington Stanley on Wednesday night, most supporters were expecting nothing other than three points. Unsurprisingly, it was a very similar line-up to the one that dominated against Accrington, with the only change being a forced one through Aiden McGeady.
Max Power and Dylan McGeough both retained their midfield positions, both played a huge role in midweek to help us keep possession of the ball and start off our attacks. Denver Hume also started the game after his superb substitute appearance at Wembley and follow up at Accy.
Despite a very quiet start to the game, which left few shooting opportunities for either side, Sunderland unfortunately fall behind after Ian Henderson gave Rochdale an unexpected lead, with around 28 minutes on the clock. He collected the ball from Joe Bunney and was then able to fire it past a helpless Jon McLaughlin. The first substitution saw a forced Sunderland change after half an hour, with Lynden Gooch limping off with a knock and the captain, George Honeyman, was abruptly called to action with his first league appearance on return from his suspension.
The game reached half time and Rochdale were able to maintain their lead, heading in 1-0 ahead after a very uninspiring Sunderland performance in the first 45 minutes. Although we had more possession than the home side, it was still a very unconvincing half as nobody had really managed to take clear control of the game in a red and white shirt. Elsewhere, Barnsley were a goal behind against Burton at half time, and Luton were drawing 1-1 with Blackpool, so it was vital that Sunderland capitalised on this situation; anything but three points would be considered unsatisfactory in the opinion of most supporters.
As the second half commenced the travelling Sunderland faithful were still in fine voice and had every bit of faith that we could still come back and edge a result over the home side. Just over 10 minutes into the second half, Charlie Wyke was the man to find the equaliser after a superb turn just inside the box, followed by an exquisite finish as he placed the ball perfectly in the bottom corner, giving the goalkeeper no chance. Hopefully that’s the goal that can spur him on for the rest of the season, as he has been given a good portion of criticism after poor performances.
Edging into the dying embers of the game, both teams pressed in an attempt to claim all three points for different reasons. The seconds ticked by as the frustration started to build, it was looking more and more likely that we would be held to a 1-1 draw. 89 minutes had passed, with all away supporters praying for a lengthy injury time. That was until Luke O’Nien began marching down the wing and pulled it back brilliantly for George Honeyman to slot home. The away end exploded with a mix of relief and excitement. Barnsley were still losing away to Burton, and Luton were level so this goal is destined to have a monumental impact and could even determine our league status next season. The passion oozed out of the Sunderland skipper, as he charged towards the Sunderland faithful to celebrate what was sure to be the winning goal. However, there was still a job to do and full concentration was required as conceding now would be shameful after coming so far in the game.
Six minutes later the final whistle went and it was music to the ears of Jack Ross and the Sunderland fans as we clinched the three points. With promotion in sight, one thing is for sure, the team we have is more than capable of winning every game we have left. Let’s do it…