It’s feels good to be back. Weird I know, right?
The last time we graced the playing surface of the Stadium of Light in a competitive fixture we were treated to an afternoon of players rolling over and allowing Swansea City to tickle their bellies. The manager was booed every time he stepped into his technical area and we had a bunch of players who could not give two shits, ready to give up at any point.
Friday was different... much different. After a turbulent summer of failed takeovers, PR blunder after PR blunder, an overhaul of personnel, getting our arses handed to us by a reserve side and an experienced member of the squad getting fully lagered and calling the rest of them shit on camera, it was nice to have actual football back.
What the 29,000-plus crowd at the Stadium of Light got in Simon Grayson’s first game was a team that worked hard for each other, played with heart and desire and that were actually entertaining.
Supporters went into this fixture understandably cautious and, in some cases, pessimistic facing a Derby County side accustomed to the rigours of the Championship and whom will likely be challenging for the play-offs come May. However, Sunderland delivered a consummate performance which lays the groundwork for the coming season.
There were positives all over the pitch. The axis of Lee Cattermole and Didier Ndong in the centre of the park nullified the presence of Tom Huddlestone, Aiden McGeady looked a threat all evening and puts a hell of a set piece in, George Honeyman looks comfortable at this level and Lewis Grabban looks a shrewd piece of business by Grayson.
Our high pressing game panicked Derby into mistakes on a number of occasions, namely the move that led to Grabban striking the post. At the other end we limited the Rams to only a handful of chances and, if this type of football is replicated throughout the season, we will have more than enough to make a push for the play-offs.
Obviously there were some caveats to this positive performance. Brendan Galloway was routinely exposed at left back and was hopelessly out of position, then turned far too easily by Johnny Russell for Derby’s opener. Jason Steele looked nervous between the sticks, spilling a fairly routine effort and if it weren’t for Derby’s strikers fluffing their lines we could’ve easily have lost the game.
There is also a question mark over James Vaughan’s head. The former Bury man has endured a hard pre-season, missing two penalties, and went agonisingly close to opening his account on Friday. He needs a goal as soon as possible so he can avoid having a monkey on his back - we have seen it far too often with strikers like Danny Graham, Jozy Altidore and Jon Stead going on huge goal droughts after failing to get their first goal early.
I’m confident once he bundles one in, the goals will flow and with the likes of McGeady, Honeyman, Wahbi Khazri and the soon-to-be-fit-again Duncan Watmore supplying the chances this will come sooner rather than later. Also, if McGeady could not attempt 360-degree spins on the edge of our area - that’d be great.
Friday was far from perfect but Grayson has a base to build on now and after the debacle against Celtic, this performance will give supporters optimism for the campaign ahead.