Sunderland manager Jack Ross said in the week when I interviewed him that to be promotion candidates, they would need to win a string of matches to climb up the table - and that is exactly what the lads showed here. After the victory against Bradford City before the international break, it was vital for us to take all three points from the game at New Meadow.
Saturday saw us take in yet another new League One ground, and one I suspect the majority of our fans haven’t visited. The atmosphere was fantastic in the ground as the gates at the New Meadow increased by a few thousand, not only because we sold out our allocation, but because many more home supporters made it along to see their team take on a club that only last year were part of the Premier League’s elite.
The job of replacing the suspended Max Power in the centre of our midfield was handed to Scotland international Dylan McGeouch, who I was impressed with in pre-season but has struggled to really kick on - though, personally, I put that down to his struggles with fitness.
We started the first few minutes positively but Shrewsbury slowly started to get back into the game, and as our opponents gained more control we struggled to play the game that Jack Ross wanted us to when he planned it out in training in the week.
The hosts were given simple free headers from their corners but it was lucky for us that they couldn’t be ruthless. As teams around us were starting to concede goals in their own matches, if we could score and win, we would gain some ground on the table toppers - though we came close to going behind when the home side struck the bar, reminding us that we needed to get stuck in and gain a foothold in the game.
At half time, it was Shrewsbury Town 0-0 Sunderland but it didn’t look like it would take much time for the hosts to take the lead unless Jack Ross changed his system for the second half.
In order to swing the game back in our favour, Jack Ross made his first change in the 53rd minute when he brought on Lynden Gooch for Josh Maja, who had uncharacteristically struggled to make an impact whilst he was on the pitch. Chris Maguire then sat in behind Sinclair as Gooch went out on the wing. Just a few minutes later Ross brought on Honeyman, the club captain, in the place of Aiden McGeady, who had also struggled to have a meaningful impact during the game.
Unexpectedly, we took the lead when some superb play on the right by Lynden Gooch sent a cross into the penalty area for Tom Flanagan, the centre-back, to try and score. In the end, his pressure on Omar Beckles bore fruit when he touched the ball beyond his own goalkeeper and into the net to hand us the advantage.
In the 84th minute, Luke O’Nien scored a brilliant goal from inside the penalty area to make sure that the three points were coming back home with the team. After all of the first half pressure, it was brilliant to see that Ross changed the system and managed to take home all three points.
Next up, we face a very tough test against Doncaster Rovers on Tuesday night at the Keepmoat Stadium and this could be one of the toughest tests we’ve faced yet this season - they’re right up there at the top end of the table with us, and won’t be fazed by the prospect of facing a Sunderland side who they know they must beat if they too want to be promoted come the end of the season.
If we can carry the momentum collected from Saturday’s victory into this one, we have a very good chance of securing a win which would really be a statement to the rest of the league - but with tricky team selection decisions to make, Jack Ross will have to be ruthless in order to ensure he picks the best possible side he can so that we take all three points.