Around 4,000 Sunderland supporters were at the Keepmoat Stadium last night to witness a third successive victory - all of which have came on the road, I might add - as the lads hung in to claim all three points against Doncaster Rovers.
Jack Ross made two changes to the side that won 2-0 on Saturday at Shrewsbury Town.
Lynden Gooch and captain George Honeyman came into the team for Josh Maja and Aiden McGeady. The gaffer had announced before hand that Maja picked up an ankle injury, so he wasn’t going to risk the forward and improve his health for Saturday’s game against Southend United - and that line of thinking probably came into it when making a decision on McGeady, who has only just returned from injury himself, so asking him to play three games in a week when we have options in the squad didn’t seem necessary. Donald Love was back on the bench after his injury, which is pivotal as it steps up the competition for places in the side.
After three successive away league games this was the one that looked set to be the toughest test of them all, but with yet another huge away following behind the team it seemed unlikely that they’d slip, regardless of the fact that Doncaster have proven themselves to be such a good team in League One this season.
There were promising early signs for the visitors as Gooch’s shot was drilled past the right-hand post before Maguire’s header flew over the bar, but Doncaster slowly crept back into the game by flooding crosses into Jon McLaughlin’s penalty area.
It felt to me like the game was being played at a much higher tempo than usual as, sometimes, we needed to calm things down by taking longer over throw-ins and goal-kicks. Then, it was beginning to show that we were missing the presence of Josh Maja up top, lacking his ability to hold the ball up all over the park.
For me, Sinclair was caught offside too many times in the first half and then like other games this season, we were being dragged into playing too many long balls forward.
If it wasn’t for Jon McLaughlin at the end of the first half then we would have been at least one behind after he made some vital saves to keep us in the game - and it proved to be hugely important as, moments after the interval, Lynden Gooch’s shot rebounded off the left post and the ball was squared to Chris Maguire, who thumped home from around three yards out.
All that was required of the team now was for them to keep a clean sheet, something they have only done once away from home so far this season. Ross made his first sub of the match when he brought on Luke O’Nien in the place of Lee Cattermole - a sensible change considering the fact he was on a booking, and the referee was particularly card-happy.
Soon after it could have been two when Tom Flanagan’s shot smacked the post and the follow-up from O’Nien was fired into the top right corner, but unfortunately it was ruled out for offside. Luckily for us, our game management was superb and we managed to not only claim the victory but, to the delight of the outstanding Jon McLaughlin, another much-needed clean sheet.
Next up we face Southend United on Saturday afternoon at the Stadium of Light in what should be another tough encounter, and with Josh Maja and Bryan Oviedo returning to the fold we’re likely to see a strong squad in place for what is another huge game.
Can the lads keep the positive momentum going? I certainly hope so - for the first time this season it feels like things are properly clicking in place and it’s going to take a very robust side to stop us. Southend are no mugs, but with over 30,000 fans behind them we can only hope that the players respond in the best possible manner, by winning another game to place further pressure on the two sides above us in the table.