I bet you had forgot what that felt like?
I’m not just talking about the fact that we won, but that we also ground out a result, keeping the opposition at arms length, biding our time and then landing the knock out blow when the opportunity presented itself. I can’t remember the last time we put in a display like that.
It was a pure team effort from Sunderland on Saturday.
There weren’t any stand out performances. No one single player ran the show - every man that was wearing sky blue stuck to their jobs and executed a game plan, and that’s exactly why Chris Coleman deserves the majority of the credit for Sunderland’s second win of the season.
People outside of the Sunderland bubble would probably roll their eyes when they hear our supporters say that “this team is better than the league position suggests”, but at the Pirelli Stadium they finally proved that was the case.
Burton only had one shot on target, a big indicator of how blunt the home side’s attack actually was. The key difference between Sunderland in this game and the Sunderland we’ve seen for most of the season is how we didn’t allow such a poor forward threat to still cause us damage.
Under Simon Grayson, the Black Cats would likely have done two things that would have cost them the win. First all of all, they would have kept pumping long balls up to Lewis Grabban and just hacked away the ball every time it entered our final third. This would have invited pressure back onto the defence, which obviously would have given Burton further opportunities. Under Coleman though, the players were allowed to show their superior quality and retain possession, letting our opposition do the chasing while controlling the tempo of the game.
Holding onto the ball didn’t just benefit Sunderland in an attacking sense - it took the pressure off the back four. It gave John O’Shea and co. the chance to organise and regroup when required and it’s the main reason they finally got that elusive first clean sheet of the season.
The other mistake Sunderland would have made had this game been a few weeks earlier would have been to consolidate. With fifteen minutes to go, Chris Coleman could see that the Brewers had gone flat but instead of seeing this as the ideal chance to settle for a point away from home, the manager chased the victory. On came James Vaughan, followed by Joel Asoro five minutes later and the away side were immediately pushed another ten yards up the pitch.
Substitutions changing the game have become an alien concept to anyone on Wearside, especially after the reigns of Grayson and David Moyes. Our most recent manager was often reluctant to make changes and his predecessor would have probably brought a right back on for an attacker.
The fact that Vaughan got the games opening goal and Asoro set up the equaliser already sets Coleman apart from the managers he is immediately following.
In truth, this was a pretty dull game. The fact that Sunderland won such a dull affair is massively to their credit though. How many boring games have we played this season, where we’ve managed to make a mistake and throw away the victory? It’s a surprisingly long list.
If Coleman keeps this kind of belief in the squad, this won’t be the only time they come out on top in such ugly encounters. It’s often said that a true sign of a teams quality is when they don’t play fantastically but still come out of the game with three points - it’s the type of cliche that’s usually wheeled out for title winners. While Sunderland won’t be winning any titles this season, the quality in their team is still above, or at least level with, the majority of sides in this division.
Now that they have a manager who can recognise their ability and play to their strengths, there’s no reason they can’t get themselves miles above the relegation zone.