Fresh, if that’s the right word, from our narrow victory over Shrewsbury at the weekend, the Lads took on Ipswich, a club a bit of turmoil according to their very own Vital Ipswich blog, which in December reported the banning by the club of the person who’d edited the Ipswich Town forum for donkey’s years. A bit Cookie-esque, eh? Anyway, we won by yet another Wyke goal on the stroke of half time, after the home side lost a man to a red card in the tenth minute. Having controlled the first half in our usual manner - dominate possession but don’t score enough – the home side changed things around and had much more of the ball in the second half - mind, they’d had next to nowt of it in the first half without ever looking like frightening our back line. An injury to Bailey Wright sort of spoiled the night, but hopefully his removal from the field was more to do with the current protocol on head injuries rather than anything serious. Hopefully, as we’re fast running out of central defenders. At the end of the day, to use a proper football phrase, we ran out deserved winners, and as convincing winners as 1-0 winners can be.

It’s hard to believe that it’s less than a year and a half since we last visited Portman Road, bringing back a 1-1 draw thanks to Goochy’s equaliser in August 2019 – after we’d spent half of our pre-match leisure time trying to find a pub that hadn’t gone “home fans only.” Today, with there being no travelling, at least we’d not had to endure a five hour bus journey – although I’d have a happily endured that for the sake of actually being present. As it was, I was left with time to nip out and spot some Crossbills, and for a haircut. Suffice to say I did it myself, and no photos are available. The last time we’d met Ipswich, I’d watched on a little screen in the kitchen of the caravan on my holiday in Northumberland as lockdown 2 loomed. And we won. This time, after much online discussion – as that’s the only sort we can manage – I sat in my front room and we lined up:


Power © Willis Wright McFadzean

Leadbitter Winchester Scowen

O’Brien Wyke McGeady

…and a bench of Matthews, Maguire, Gooch, O’Nien, Sanderson, Embleton, and Diamond. To be honest, I’d much prefer Diamond in place of O’Brien – even if it’s just for his pace. I wasn’t entirely sure how Scowen and Winchester would play relative to each other, but I imagined that Winchester would be more the one to pick a clever pass while Scowen did the bursts forward as he did at the weekend. No disrespect to Danny and Frankie, or Benno and Barnsey, but it was interesting to have the Sky Sports commentary team – including punditry from The Don in the commentary box and Catts in the studio. Could be interesting, and it was, as he and his colleagues pointed out that Wyke was the man in amongst the goals and were Ipswich struggling to score them. Six in six from big Chas had them impressed, with The Don highlighting the pace of their Jackson and the guile of our McGeady. Let’s see which is the more effective.

Ipswich set things off, with us defending the end to the right of the cameras, and in our stripes. Power’s long one down the right saw Wyke pulled over near the corner of the box in the first minutes, and gave us a chance to create something. Grant took it, but it was met at the front post by an Ipswich head. We kept pressing, and in the opening couple of minutes looked far more composed than the Tractors – but they got in the first shot, from the right, which was probably intended as a cross and gave Burge a feel of the ball. A cross of our own from the right was easily cleared and we conceded a free near halfway as the rain came down and the pitch started to cut up on the near side, with a fair amount of water showing through the grass. We got away with one when we didn’t clear properly on 5 minutes, and Ipswich managed to get some passes together despite our constant harrying. Another right wing break saw some decent Ipswich defending as they took the ball off O’Brien’s toe, and the commentators kept reminding us that we’d not lost away from home all season.

On 9 minutes, Jackson crashed into Wright just in our half and the red came straight out, with the replays showing that the boot was well over the top of the ball. Wright was lucky to escape without a broken leg, and the red was fully justified. Good job that his studs weren’t planted in the damp turf, otherwise there would probably have been a loud snapping sound. That’s their main striker off and our main defender thankfully back up and running. Haway Lads, let’s make the most of this numerical advantage. Except it was the home side who had the next opportunity, with us putting our entire team in our own box to defend a free kick – which we did, and Ipswich fired the partial clearance way wide. Perhaps we could look to abandon four at the back at push Power forward to add to our attacking options by getting the ball to Geads at every opportunity – but again, Ipswich got another chance from a free when Power fouled, but the header was straight at Burge. We sensibly started to pass it about to force the opposition to chase the game, but we’d not put them under any sort of real pressure in their box and in the first ten minutes after the sending off there’d not been much between the sides. Then we won a corner on the right when Gead’s cross was blocked, and we made a mess of taking it short before eventually getting it in to Wyke, who was unlucky to knock it wide of the near post under pressure.

Perhaps we weren’t putting in the crosses because we assumed that, at 6’6” and with a name like Holy, their keeper would be good with them. After we won back the ball on the right it fell to O’Brien, who tried a punt from the corner of the box which bent wide of the near post. As usual, possession stats showed after 25 minutes that it was 68% in our favour, but it hadn’t manifested itself in any clear chances. As usual.

Winchester seemed to be drifting to the right with O’Brien going behind Wyke, but this took a while to bring any rewards as we persisted with the slow build-up, but too often ending with a loose pass. We won a corner on the right after 32 minutes, which Grant took, swinging it away from the keeper but seeing it cleared. Passes were hard to judge, as some were skidding on while others stopped dead with a little splash, but for all the play we had, especially out on the right, precious little was getting from there into the box. A free from the other side did cause bother when Geads got a bit of a header down and Wyke whacked a left-footer goalwards, but the keeper did well to palm it away before Willis was spoken to by the ref – at the insistence of the home players. They did it again soon after when Winchester was booked – c’mon fellas, be careful, and don’t give the ref the chance to even things up. Get into them and don’t let them have the moral victory of a half-time clean sheet. Ipswich came close on 40, and it took some good defending to keep the ball away from Burge. For a moment a break looked on, but Wyke was a touch offside as he galloped through the middle.

Persistent defending out on the right by Wlliis stopped an attack, but it quickly came back and went for an Ipswich corner on our right. Thankfully, none of their players got anywhere near it and it eventually went for a goal kick. As I was wondering which side only had ten men, two added minutes were announced and they crashed a shot into the side netting – but Charlie was there again seconds later. O’Brien got it to Power on the right, he crossed in a terrific delivery than evaded the defenders, dropping nicely on the penalty spot , where Wyke flew in to side-foot it home, left-footed, to the keeper’s left. A lovely move, our best of the game. Get in you beauty, and the timing of that, 45+1, was absolutely brilliant. A minute later and the half would already have been over and the home side would be more than happy to go in level. Mind, had it been a second or third (being greedy) I’d have been even chuffder.

The half-time panel agreed that it had been a pretty horrible tackle/foul, that we should have created more chances than we had – and Catts looks weird when the blue buffering circle spins round his face. The joys of technology. They also agreed that we looked like the side that should perhaps be changing formation or personnel, as we’d not used our superior numbers to anything like best effect, while Ipswich had run their midfield quite well but obviously had no forward to pass it to.

When the second half started, Embleton was on for Winchester, probably a case of removing the possibility of a second yellow, and we played it forward quickly, with Geads winning a corner on the left which Grant put in low. It bounced through to Willis, who hit a shot from and awkward position, but it was in the air and the keeper took it at the second attempt. Embo was next to have a go, with a shot from distance being put behind for a corner on the right – and the dead-ball went through everybody to be cleared, but went back out to our right as we maintained possession. I don’t think the home side crossed half way in the first five minutes, as we won another corner thanks to our movement being a whole lot better than in the first half. Again, we took it short and buggered it up. Daft, man - just get it into the box. They did get over the half-way line six minutes in, entirely our fault, but we had the numbers (obviously) to pick it off them and soon pinned them back in their own half as we looked in proper control. O’Brien got onto Power’s ball down the right to play it back to Embo., and his cross was met by the head of Wyke – but as it was a bit behind him, he could only use the back of his bonce and it went well wide of the near post.

Ipswich replaced Noble with Drinan, who was apparently more likely to chase forward and give our defence more to do, and so it proved, but it was Geads who got the next shot away after cutting inside – but it was as wide as he’s ever shot. Their change had a pretty immediate effect, with a cross coming in from our left and nearly catching Burge out, but he scampered across to his left to collect, then he had to bring off a really good save, even if it was what they call a nice height, when a shot came in from near the spot. Oh dear, the home side were certainly upping their game and spending more time in our half. They also managed to flatten Wright again, this time when there was either a clash of heads or a stray arm, on the hour. Bailey spent a long time on the deck, which is not like him, so I was fearing the worst especially when the golf buggy splashed across the grass – but he was sitting up by then, and the sight of it was probably enough for him to ask for a sniff of the smelling salts. I tried them once, at my grandma’s, and they were enough to wake a fossil. Anyway, he was off, understandably, and Sanderson was on, immediately getting the ball up the right to Wyke who was fouled.

Embo swung it in, left-footed from the touchline, but the keeper took it comfortably and that was another attack that came to nothing, but at least we were moving the ball sharper in the second half. Mind, since their swap, so were Ipswich, even if they were still suffering from a lack of bodies to pass it to. Having said that, they were starting to be later in the challenge, and there was a yellow for Ward for a foul on Scowen as we passed the 70 minute mark.

They swapped Bishop for Thomas to add some fresh legs as we wondered whether it was time to get Gooch and/or O’Nien on to add fresh legs of our own to seal the victory. Y’know, to save me a nervous twenty-odd minutes, as with only one goal scored there’s always a chance of something nasty happening. Not that I’m a pessimist or owt, just a Sunderland fan with experience of such things, and my internet connection was likely to make those minutes stretch to midnight. A spot of determined defending near the right-hand corner flag won us a throw, which Power got as far as he could up the pitch, but it came back and we had to defend again. Which we did, but it looked like the home side had done an Aldridge and snuck another player on as they kept winning the ball back. We swapped McGeady for Gooch, then there was a yellow for Dozzell on 80 when he was late on O’Brien – not a nasty one, just late – and we had another chance to get it forward, which we did down the left, but the cross was way beyond the far post and Ipswich had the ball again. A Gooch foul forty yards out and central gave Ipswich the chance to get it forward, and we had to head that one clear but it came back in from deep on our right and eventually trickled through to Burge as we had all od Ipswich’s options covered. Good defending, Sunderland.

Deep breath, Lads, and get control of the game again, please. With four to go, the home side brought on two new faces in Sears and Kenlock, and we added extra enthusiasm with O’Nien replacing O’Brien. Not before time in the case of O’Brien, and Luke’s general pestiness should hopefully keep the home defence occupied, especially if he and Gooch run at them. Power’s pass down the right looked half decent until the camera pulled back and revealed that there was nobody there and the ball ran out for a goal kick. Another free was conceded, giving Dozzell the chance to put it into the box, which he did. A crowd of players leapt at the back post, with those in stripes leaping the highest, and the ball eventually, and thankfully, ran for a goal kick as six added minutes were announced – largely due to the time Wright had spent being treated. Embo weaved impressively into the box, and went past a couple of defenders before going down, but there’d been no foul and he’d just run out of space and balance.

An Ipswich break saw Sears get into our box on our left despite looking suspiciously offside, and Burge had to be alert to collect at the near post and clear it up-field, where Wyke won a free with the clever use of his body (getting in the way of a defender) and we did the patient thing,. Patient for a while, before bursting into the box and keeping the home side on the back foot until the whistle went. That leaves us with another three points and the honour of being the only side in the top four divisions, apart from Man Utd, to remain unbeaten away from home.

Get in. While it was never, ever, a case of backs to the wall, there’s always the chance of something rotten happening when you’ve only scored the one, but we defended well and did what was necessary elsewhere to protect that defence. It keeps us in seventh place, we deserved to win, and I, like all Sunderland fans, love a Sunderland win. Admission time – tonight’s the first time I’ve put a bet on us when I’ve not been at the game.

Once again, we’d completely bossed a game, won a game, but only scored the once. Don’t get me wrong, a win’s a win and, once we went ahead, we never looked remotely as if we weren’t going to win, but there might come a time – especially with the way our central defenders are getting knacked (Flanagan, and remember Xhemajli?) – when we can’t rely on our defence to keep safe. Mind, tonight it was more a case of being effective at the back without ever looking shaky, despite losing our most consistent player of the season so far. If there’d been no commentary, and you’d been otherwise occupied around the tenth minute, you’d be forgiven for not noticing that we had an extra player – and that’s down to us being less that effective than we should have been in the first half and they upped their game in the second without ever looking really dangerous. Still, a win’s a win, and I’d quite happily take 1-0 every week, as points make prizes. Well played, me bonny Lads.

I’d have loved us to have been there in numbers tonight, as it would no doubt have been an overnight job, and we’d have surely somewhere accommodating to away fans in which to celebrate a very good win, before having to endure the snoring from the next room in the B&B. No names, you know who you were after the 2-5 defeat. Nowt like a happy awayday many miles from home.

Man of the Match? Wyke scored again. The defence kept a clean sheet. Power provided the vital assist. Leadbitter sat in his usual place and when he had the chance he dictated our play. On that basis, I’ll give it to him.