In probably the most controlled performance of our season, certainly at home, good old Sunderland did for Donny. Two first half goals– a banger from Morgan and a deserved finish from Wyke – saw us home. And it was a totally enjoyable game, with the sun shining into the ground where it could, and the seagulls soaring overhead in appreciation. The same amount of away fans as last week, but without the (INSERT RUDE WORD HERE) Coventry nonsense. Boom, gerrrin, just gerrrin. A big, big, match, and we bossed it from start to finish. Which is the way things should be, apart from Pompey’s late, late, offside handball winner – the world hates us, it surely does.
I hadn’t realised how nervous I was about today’s game, but on the walk to the paper shop I felt like a kid on Cup Final day. Perhaps I’d convinced myself that after so many years before the mast of the good ship SAFC, I was immune to such emotions. Dinnet be daft, man. Perhaps it was the added interest of it being a Friday instead of a Saturday, and the knowledge that this big game against a promotion contended was to be followed by another on Monday with a big game against another one that had me nervously polishing my match-day boots again. Perhaps it was the discovery, in the cellar, of a bag containing our SAFC ponchos from the SoL extension. Perhaps it was a combination of all sorts of things. Who knows? Whatever it was, my innards were churning like a faulty washing machine by the time I went for the bus. With it being a tea-time kick-off, our lot made our very own Good Friday Agreement, meaning that the left at the usual time so that we could “make a day of it.”
We used the extra time in town to discuss team selection, the fact that Thomas Hauser was in town, remember Sammy, and take in the sun as well as the liquids to counteract its dehydrating effects, taking in fish and chips at our (very) old haunt, the Wolsey, before watching the Burton/Pompey game at the Harbour View. Donny fans were less bothered about their result than Barnsley’s – they just wanted them to lose. Sounds familiar.
We’d expected changes, and there had been hints of a return for Maguire, but I suspect few of us expected just how many Ross would make. Flanagan and Baldwin paid for last weekend’s wobbliness as we lined up:
O’Nien Ozturk Dunne Oviedo
Morgan Honeyman McGeady
With Donny winning the toss, they had us kick off towards the North Stand, and from the off the atmosphere was bouncing. The Roker End, resplendent with its new latticework, and with flags a-waving, led the choruses of noise as the whole ground got behind the Lads. As we’d suspected, Donny came at us as they needed the three points, and we exploited the openness that provided. Instructions to the defence were clear (or they made up their own rules – whatever, it had the same effect) as O’Nien stayed a little deeper than usual, the centre-backs didn’t try to play any football other than get rid, and we allowed Donny to play all they wanted in their own half.
Which resulted in a very open start, without Donny troubling McLaughlin, and when McGeady, a bit of a surprise starter, but who’d already tortured his full-back down the left, pinged in a typically accurate cross on seven minutes, Wyke did the number nine thing. That thing you never see in the Premier League, because he’s not Argentinian or Spanish and he’s a big Lad – he rose like a young salmon (copyright Frank Worthington) to nod it perfectly into the path of Morgan, who, at the edge of the box, took a deep breath and smashed it, perfectly, into the net. Only seven minutes? The amount of stuff that had gone on made it feel like much longer than that, but in the nicest possible way.
We were enjoyable to watch, and we didn’t look like conceding every time the opposition came forward, unlike last week. It did make a huge difference that Catts was filling the void in front of the defence, and that Power was passing it rather than just clearing it. Morgan moved from side to side as Honeyman covered for him, or McGeady when he cut inside, and it was just….exciting. A couple of minutes after the goal, Chas broke from halfway, turned back to feed McGeady, and Donny did really well to prevent a second by getting to the cross first. Despite us totally dominating affairs, we are Sunderland, and as the second goal didn’t come, we could perhaps, just perhaps, be forgiven for getting a bit nervous – totally unjustified nervousness, but nervousness perhaps born of many years’ experience. O’Nien almost had a glory moment as a clearance fell nicely for him, but his volley swerved the wrong side of the post and into the seats.
And it turned out to be totally unjustified just after the half hour, after the game’s first corner. Morgan’s shot was deflected over the top into the North Stand, and with no Leadbitter, Power and McGeady worked a short one, with Aiden’s initial cross being cleared, but only back to Max. He duly slung it in. Dunne was the nuisance that he’d promised to be, easily beating the daft efforts of the keeper to get to the ball, and as it bounced just beyond the post, Wyke was there to knock it back across and in with his right foot. Boom. Gerrin. Take that. Magic.
The remaining quarter hour of the half was a story of us dominating and Donny trying the odd break, which foundered on either Dunne’s head or Ozturk’s uncompromising boot. As the single added minute of added time was announced, we gave away a free which they fired off the foot of McLaughlin’s left-hand post. A goal for them at that stage would have been against the balance of play, but it didn’t come and we went for our cup of tea and hot cross bun with a well-deserved two goal lead.
No changes for the second half, and it was more of the same. Oviedo was given more space to break forward, and five minutes in almost made it count as he cut inside and fired across the keeper to glance his shot off the same post. A third would have been totally justified, but we’ll take what we can.
McGeady shot over the top, then Wyke held off his man to turn and force a good low save from their keeper. When Donny did break through, Big Jon charged out to the edge of his area to save with his chest, then produced two “footballing ‘keeper” moments that would have had us conceding goals last season but produced cheers of delight this. Gooch replaced McGeady with fifteen to go, and the ground rose as one (those that weren’t standing anyway) to applaud Aiden off the field. Two minutes later, Grigg replaced Wyke, and the ground did the same inn appreciation of a shift well worked.
Gooch’s fresh legs and familiar harassing approach to the game kept the visitors on the back foot down our right, and while the third didn’t come, there was precious little to be unhappy about. Other than Ozturk’s wrestle with their forward as a free kick came in, which should really have been a penalty, that is. We got a bit lucky with that one, but not the game in general. Oh, and mebbe Catts getting booked was a bit iffy, as the “foul” he’d earlier been spoken to about was a clear dive by Marquis as he saw two Sunderland shirts approaching. Power was caught with a naughty one as he attempted to clear from the edge of our box, and a bit of a kerfuffle ensued, ending with a yellow for their man. Leadbitter replaced Power as the clocked edged towards 90, then four added minutes were announced. We saw those out as we’d seen out the previous 90, the whistle went, and I realised that, for the first time, I’d stood for the whole game in my seat.
Clinical, effective, and restrained at the right times. Above all, totally dominant. Well done to Jack Ross for having the guts to make the changes, and to the players for rising to the challenge.
Man of the Match? Not a dodgy game anywhere in a Sunderland shirt. Morgan’s best game for us by far. Catts filled the gap that Coventry had rampaged through. Dunne didn’t mess about. McGeady, once again, knitted socks with his magic feet, but Charlie Wyke….mebbe he’s a bit of a throwback, being an old-fashioned centre forward, but his physical approach is something we can all relate to. Bang, clatter, lay it off – lovely to watch, big fella. So you get my vote.
And so home, on a singy, bouncy bus – on which the door broke, and wouldn’t close. Obviously, the thing wouldn’t move with an open door, so we devised a scarf pulley that we took it in turns to hold all the way back to Bishop. Happy days, and tired arms.