It’s good to be home.
It was tempting to think heading into the match yesterday the result would be secondary for many SAFC fans, paling in comparison to simply being able to be there regardless (or, for the many around the world who couldn’t be there, to be able to watch a Sunderland game with Sunderland fans in attendance – the way it’s meant to be).
Realistically though, that’s just not true is it? The result was, as it always is and always should be, the most important thing in the end.
There was a lot of justified apprehension coupled with no little frustration and anger among the fan base at the state of the first team squad heading into the season opener. Add into the mix that we were playing a side containing three of last season’s most controversial nearly-men (of which at least two you could argue hadn’t been replaced) and a couple of midfielders filling in at full-back – it was clear the game had anti-climax potential written all over it.
As it happened, it was nothing of the sort.
A fast-paced start from both sides resulted in Wigan taking a slightly fortuitous, although in fairness just about deserved lead on the 15th minute; with a tidy finish from Gwion Edwards from a rebound off the post from a Will Keane shot. Cue the predictably performative OTT celebrations from Wyke and Power in front of a slightly bemused North Stand (who knew Max loved tapping that Wigan badge so much – he really seemed to enjoy it didn’t he?). Not the start we wanted.
This goal could have been the deflating, bubble-bursting sucker punch we’ve seen so often suck the life out of the stands and the lads on the pitch in equal measure. Instead, it seemed to light a fire under this Sunderland side. As responses to conceding an early goal at home go, you couldn’t ask for much more than this. An inch-perfect pass from the excellent Elliot Embleton into the equally impressive Ross Stewart had him through on goal less than two minutes later. Some clever footwork resulted in him being brought down in the box for a stonewall penalty. Aiden McGeady converted this in his customary fuss-free fashion, and just like that, we were level. It sounded as though the roof might well have come off when that went in. Oh how football has missed fans.
Sunderland could (and probably should) have converted one of a fair few chances created between then and the half-time whistle. Our tails were up and Wigan were shrinking – it seemed Max Power’s head tapping routine to his teammates just after their goal had less than the desired effect.
The second half started similarly to how the first ended, and in the 53rd minute a pin-point Embleton corner was nodded in by Stewart in emphatic fashion. We were ahead and did not really look back from there – I spent most of the rest of the match mentally preparing for an assault from Wigan that never came; in no small part thanks to the assured performances of a Sunderland side playing with clear confidence in exactly what they needed to do.
Corry Evans delivered a real captain’s performance in the middle of the park – he was just about the coolest man in the stadium for the full 90 minutes. Lynden Gooch had a fantastic game and was unlucky to see his solo effort come back off the woodwork – denying what would’ve been a richly deserved goal. He may well have got another chance had he not had to shift to right-back shortly after due to an injury to Carl Winchester, too. Final shout-out goes to Callum Doyle who belied his youth with a mature, confident and dominant display in the heart of defence – a certain Mr Wyke barely got a sniff.
A win from behind on opening day should rightfully be celebrated, but it’s important to stress this side is not the finished article. There were times yesterday where the makeshift fullbacks were exposed and the need for specialists is clearer than ever – not just from a defensive perspective but it will also allow Neil and Winchester to return to compete for their natural positions. The midfield was impressive yesterday and those two would add real strength in depth to the options available there.
Looking ahead to this week, a League Cup tie at Port Vale on Tuesday should hopefully provide Alex Pritchard with an opportunity to get some minutes, and we can go into Saturday’s trip to MK Dons with real confidence now too.
Fingers crossed there’s movement on the transfer front this week, but for now let’s enjoy what was, in all honesty, an absolutely fantastic day at the office for Sunderland AFC.