As the clock ticked past the 70-minute mark at The Stadium of Light, you could be forgiven for thinking we were enduring a ‘typically Sunderland afternoon.’
The hosts had dominated the majority of the game, had a stonewall penalty turned down just before half time and had done pretty much everything but score.
As seasoned supporters, we all know how this usually ends-the lads miss a flurry of late chances and Bristol Rovers enter the Guinness Book of World Records for the amount of time wasted in the final 20 minutes.
However, our recent run has been far from ‘typical Sunderland’ and just ten minutes later we were 3-0 up and everyone was wondering what all the fuss was about.
The victory saw the lads pick up their fourth win and clean sheet in a row and continue their remarkable run of form, which has seen them lose just once in their last fourteen games, rising from 15th to 4th in under two months.
At first glance this run of form is impressive enough, but when you consider the variety of challenges we have overcome in recent weeks, our current run has the hallmarks of automatic promotion contenders.
There have been games where we have brushed the opposition aside early on, indeed since Parkinson took over in October, we have been 3-0 up early doors on four separate occasions.
However, we have also ground out victories where necessary, including a 1-0 victory over Tranmere on a ploughed field, a steely defensive display against Oxford and a patient performance in a win over MK Dons.
Last season’s achilles heel was drawing tight games and not finishing teams off when we took the lead early on in games.
This has been Parkinson’s biggest triumph in recent weeks, as he has turned around a team that until late December looked, directionless and disinterested to a team that is playing with freedom and confidence, built on a base of solidity and graft.
Each player clearly knows what is expected of them, but there is a fluidity about our play since Christmas that has been a joy to watch.
Jordan Willis is bringing the ball out of defence and even overlapping Luke O’Nien in the right wing back role and producing some good balls into the box, Denver Hume has made some very encouraging forward runs with Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch given the licence to break into the penalty area.
This new approach has been made possible by the likes of George Dobson and Max Power covering for the wing backs and recycling possession well in the midfield to get us on the front foot quickly.
Our first goal on Saturday was the embodiment of newly found style of play, John McLaughlin was sharp to distribute the ball to Maguire who fed Dobson before the former Walsall skipper linked up well with Charlie Wyke to give Maguire the ball in a perfect position for a cutback which was expertly finished by Lyden Gooch.
From John McLauglin’s hands to the ball ending up in the back of the Bristol Rovers net, the ball did not leave the floor and none of the players involved in the move took more than two touches.
Such a goal is not possible unless the players instinctively know what runs to make and what positions their teammates are likely to take up.
Saturday’s clean sheet was Sunderland’s eighth in their last 12 matches, only four fewer than we achieved in our 46 league games last season.
Every promotion season is different, despite finishing the season on 94 points, Mick McCarthy’s Sunderland team is remembered as a functional, hard to beat team despite scoring as many goals as Roy Keane’s title winners from the 06-07 season.
Keane, himself brought a cult of personality and lit a fire under the entire city as we lost just once in the entire second half of the season.
During both campaigns, however we went on the type of long winning run we are currently enjoying and while Parkinson perhaps doesn’t posses the fear factor of Peter Reid, the dry wit and brutal one liners of Mick McCarthy or the sheer magnetism of Roy Keane, but he has quietly built a platform on which promotions are achieved.
Of course, our next two games are crucial, but whisper it... Parkinson might just have found the formula to get us back to the Championship.