Overall Position: 8th
Apologies from the referees’ assessor: 1
October… the month of ghosts, ghouls and scaring the hell out of our own players at Psycho Path. It was a month that certainly contained a few scares on the pitch too after what had been a hugely enjoyable September.
October started, just as the previous month had ended, with a strong performance and a win. Watford were the opponents at the Stadium of Light and a side who, despite being in absolutely woeful form, had given a contract extension to manager Valerien Ismael before the game. A comfortable if uninspiring first half from Sunderland was punctuated spectacularly by Niall Huggins who cut in from the right-wing, left 4 Watford players in his wake before smashing the ball in off the underside of the bar. It was a strike that wouldn’t be bettered for the rest of the month and incredibly Huggins’ first ever senior career goal. On the hour, Sunderland increased their lead via the head of Abdoullah Ba for his 2nd goal in 4 games but as the rain poured down it wasn’t to rain any more goals. Most importantly the result was Sunderland’s 5th win in 6 and left us 1 point off third place.
Start as we mean to go on. No? Next up was a Middlesbrough side who’d started the season appallingly but had shown signs of a resurgence in the lead-up to this game. A fairly even opening half saw Dan Neil escape with only a booking after a late challenge on former Sunderland youth player Josh Coburn after 17 minutes. He wasn’t so lucky on the stroke of half time though as referee Jarred Gillett deemed a bit of light back-chat sufficient for a second booking and the taps were being turned on for Neil’s early bath… a role probably falling under Mike Dodds’ sizable remit. The half ended in chaotic fashion with Ballard and Coburn at each other’s throats in the aftermath of what still seems an exceedingly odd refereeing decision. Gillett certainly NOT the best a man can get on this occasion. Less said about the rest of the game the better really as Sunderland boy, and another former academy player, Sam Greenwood set the ball-ache rolling on what turned into a 4-0 rout. It was Middlesbrough’s biggest ever away victory over Sunderland… so a bad day at the office all round but one that undoubtedly turned on the red card decision.
Time to put things right in the next game against (checks notes) oh for f… of course, it was Alex Neil’s Stoke. The name-sounds-a-lot-like-Queen’s-guitarist Ryan Mmaee gave Stoke the lead after just 7 minutes with the help of his arm which is, call me a traditionalist, against the rules. Nevertheless, the goal stood, but Jack Clarke had a really good reply just minutes later as he side-footed into an empty net after great work from Jobe had forced a save from Mark Travers. Some slack defending from a corner just after halftime though ensured Stoke went back ahead and that was enough to secure them the three points and end a run of three home defeats… typical eh?
Time to put things right in the next game against (checks notes) oh for f… of course, it was league leaders Leicester. What followed however was a tenacious Sunderland performance as we went toe to toe with a side who are currently running away with the Championship. A great early chance for Jack Clarke started things off nicely but yet more lax defending from a corner allowed James Justin to tower above Jobe and power a header past Patterson. The old tower and power. From that point on though Patterson was a man who wouldn’t be beaten, by doing what good keepers for good sides do… making good saves. At the other end the returning Dan Neil was brought down in the box by David Luiz lookalike Wout Faes with a reckless lunge befitting his doppelganger. The hapless pundits in the Sky Sports studio, showing Shearer-Ben Arfa levels of research, bemoaned Sunderland’s lack of protests to the officials, ignoring the fact that Neil himself had been sent off for doing exactly that in his last appearance. The second half followed a similar pattern to the first with both sides going at it and providing a good advert for the Championship to any neutral observers, but ultimately Leicester were unable to add to their lead and Sunderland unable to secure an equaliser.
It was a third straight defeat but still, a performance worthy of building on and taking into the next game against Norwich. A first start was gifted to Nazariy Rusyn who, after Hemir, Burstow and various False 9 experiments, got his chance through the middle. It was the struggling canaries who took the lead after 20 minutes, but Trai Hume levelled things up shortly after, sweeping the ball home via a deflection. And just before half time a, now customary, beautiful team goal involving Rusyn, Clarke and Neil was finished off by the latter with the sort of deft chip usually reserved for a Michelin-starred restaurant. In the second half Clarke, very much with his mojo back, was clipped in the area and dusted himself off to slot home the spot kick securing his 9th goal of the season and a first win in 4 for Sunderland.
The result rounded off a month that could definitely go down as a ‘mixed bag’ with victories either side of 3 straight defeats. November, on the face of it anyway, provides an opportunity to get firmly back on track as we play sides with an average league position of 17th over the coming month. Clarke has very much brought his ‘A’ Game to this season so far, but needs his team mates – Roberts, for example, currently has 1 assist and 0 goals – to contribute more if we’re to have a successful November and push ourselves back into the promotion picture.