Players and supporters alike braved Storm Arwen to make the journey south to the Abbey Stadium, for the latest League One fixture against mid-table Cambridge United on Saturday.
If optimism was questionable before today, then it was desperate come what kick off as Corry Evans was injured during the warm up – a remarkable feet from a man forever fit and well for all Northern Ireland training camps and fixtures. With that is the news of long-term injuries to Luke O’Nien and Aiden McGeady, whose seasons may well be over already.
With this Lee Johnson went with a 3-5-2 (a formation that apparently needs a month’s prep) bringing Tom Flanagan back into the starting line-up. The risks came in Leon Dajaku and Lynden Gooch at wing back, neither of which have much interest in the defensive element of the game.
On 15 minutes the lads got the crucial first goal, coming in bizarre fashion as a wind-assisted deep corner from Alex Pritchard deceived the home side and went in off goalkeeper Dimitar Mitov via the back post.
But midway through the first half the balance was restored when the lads failed to deal with a break down the right hand side. Sam Smith (not that one) jump on the loose ball, hitting a left foot shot through five Sunderland players and somehow beating Thorben Hoffman at his near post.
If PTSD was kicking in from Tuesday night, that was soon remedied as Nathan Broadhead scored a screamer from 22yds to put the lads 2-1 up before the break. It came from an attack on the right with Gooch squaring it inside to the Welshmen, who under little pressure, stuck the ball in the proverbial top bin. The strike look even better as the one EFL camera we have become so reliant on, was right behind the ball’s full journey.
The second half was a battle against not only a U’s side seeking an equaliser, but a gale force wind coming straight at the Hoff’s goal.
The home side put pressure on the lads with a series of dangerous corners, and the wily pensioner Wes Hoolahan looking to be with the ball wherever possible. But today, unlike many Sunderland performances this season, was different.
The centre half trio of Flanagan, Callum Doyle and captain Bailey Wright were immense in their commitment to defend their goal. Add to that Gooch, who statistically was back on form, with a number of tackles, clearances, successful duels, touches, and of course the assist for Broadhead’s winner.
The Hoff went someway to repairing the damage for what looked like a soft goal in the first half, but giving a committed display between the sticks in the face of multiple crosses and set pieces, in the face of the aforementioned elements.
Once again the lads were wasteful in front of goal and should’ve killed the game off, however Ross Stewart lost his footing at the critical moment. This is not a criticism of the big man, for me he has plenty of cash in the bank after already hitting double figures this season.
Only one substitution made with Pritchard, forever subbed before 90, to offer young Will Harris to make a nuisance of himself up top whilst Stewart did his defensive graft. For me Carl Winchester, once again in central midfield, was man of the match with a battling box to box display for the lads.
So the lads win on the road for the first time since Crewe, and it’s seven points from nine in the last week. Four home games in all competitions coming up now, and maybe, just maybe Johnson has a shape and line-up that is sustainable. Well, for now anyway.