A home debut goal from Jack Rodwell cancelled out Juan Mata's opener at the Stadium of Light yesterday to earn Sunderland a deserved draw against Louis van Gaal's Manchester United, while also putting down an early marker for the remainder of the season in terms of the standards required to make the 2014/15 campaign a success.
Rodwell was billed as a box-to-box midfielder when signing from Manchester City this summer, but it's his work in the attacking third that could prove vital to the team as the season goes on. Not known for his goals, the Southport-born England international seems set to change that perception with abundant encouragement from head coach Gus Poyet to break into the opposition penalty area at every opportunity.
His header from a corner on the half-hour yesterday afternoon resulted from a well-timed run and superbly executed finish to bring Sunderland back into the game following Mata's early tap-in. More of the same during the coming months would do very nicely, thus offering the side an element which has been largely missing from the centre of the park since the days of Don Hutchison at the beginning of the new Millennium.
The 23-year-old former Everton star proved his ability beyond doubt throughout five years featuring in the first-team at Goodison Park, but goals have been conspicuous by their absence since breaking through on Merseyside. Then, two seasons warming the bench and treatment table at City did little to aid his progress into the all-round attacking midfield player that he undoubtedly has the capability to become.
Within Poyet's usual formation, Rodwell has the licence to go forward and get on the end of moves just as he showcased yesterday. Lee Cattermole protects the back-four brilliantly with his strong tackling and tireless running, while Seb Larsson is currently doing a fine job carrying out box-to-box duties. It seems the perfect scenario for Rodwell to step up his scoring record to a level which allows him to contribute significantly to the 'Goals For' column and once he reaches peak match fitness after a long period of inaction at the Etihad, he could eventually reach double figures.
When transfer recruitment is complete at the end of the month, it'll hopefully mean goals will be materialising from several positions on the pitch and Jack can be a big part of that incredibly important facet of the game. He may have been repeatedly overlooked for selection during his stay among the megastars of Manchester City, but his recent switch to Sunderland provides him with the realistic chance to evolve into a major star in his own right.