For arguably the fourth game in a row, Sunderland looked laboured, especially in the opening 45 minutes.
Once again, like at Wembley a few weeks ago and Lincoln last Saturday, the opposition’s high defensive press caused the back-line problems, with Dion Sanderson in particular having an uncharacteristically off afternoon.
It wasn’t until Aiden O’Brien’s scuffed volley found the bottom corner courtesy of yet another Aiden McGeady assist – his 12th in the league since December – that Bristol Rovers’ resilience and energy levels waned, from which they never really recovered.
You could say, overall, it was a professional performance from Sunderland. We, yet again, did what we had to do to get the job done. Another three points on the board and back up to the North East with the promotion push still on track. A sign of a top-two side, you might say.
However, looking a bit deeper, Saturday’s win at the Memorial Stadium could be a bit more than that.
Hull City’s draw with Gillingham means we’re now just three points off top with two games in hand.
And following Lincoln City’s defeat to Oxford United on Friday night, there’s now a little bit of daylight between the top three and the following horde.
As long as we don’t go full Jack Ross and capitulate when it counts, we could finally be saying goodbye to the wretched league very soon.
O’Brien isn’t one that often grabs the headlines. But there’s little coincidence that Charlie Wyke’s best spell at the club has come with the Republic of Ireland international alongside him.
O’Brien once again covered huge amounts of ground, threw his weight around, and scrapped for every ball.
It was great to see him back on the pitch – his absence has definitely been felt over the past few weeks.
Keep That Train Rollin’
I said it in my reaction piece last week, and the lads touched on it again during Thursday’s preview podcast, that if we got three points this weekend, last Saturday’s draw with Lincoln would look a decent result – like the draw with Crewe did after the subsequent Swindon Town game.
It’s a great sign that even when we face setbacks – like Lincoln and Crewe – we’re able to collect ourselves and get that momentum going again.
In fact, the 1-0 win over Swindon post Crewe was very similar to this weekend’s victory over Bristol Rovers. It wasn’t a five-star classic, but we still walked away with maximum points. And that’s all that matters.
I’m not one who particularly cares for or about Joey Barton. He’s an egotistical oddball. His pre-match comments claiming that our fans want him to be Sunderland manager only solidifies that.
Also, among many other reasons which I won’t go into, if that’s the kind of football he wants to serve up, I’m alright for it.
But his role in Saturday’s proceedings shouldn’t be underestimated. The weekend’s win was the first time we’ve beaten a Barton side in this league.
It doesn’t really mean much. Bristol Rovers are awful with a rancid play style, but it’s another little hoodoo ticked off the list this season.
Let’s just hope the games-in-hand curse is next to go.
The Linesman’s Mate
And finally, I couldn’t finish this without a quick shoutout to the bloke in the stand who thought he was the third linesman.
Marching up and down in his stupid shorts, looking as though every decision given against Bristol Rovers was a pre-meditated attack on his character and competence, he just epitomised League One.
Honestly, I don’t think I can take another year in this league.
But if we do end up getting promoted, Saturday’s three points at Bristol Rovers, however forgetful the game itself might have been, may end up being a very significant win.