Saturday against Oxford was the first Sunderland match that I’ve attended this season.
It was my first game since the defeat at the hands of Burton Albion in April - the awful performance and result which ultimately consigned us to life as a League One club.
What a difference!
Well, first was the weather - it was slightly more clement on Saturday than it was in April - but the whole place in general just seemed completely different. It was like I’d walked into the land of Oz from Kansas.
People flocked across the Wearmouth Bridge with smiles on their faces in anticipation of what they were about to witness. The Stadium felt cared for again, and there was a buzz about the place. At five to three, the whole of the East Stand looked full and the sunshine made the place sparkle.
The game didn’t exactly go to script and two points were dropped, but the team remains unbeaten in fourth place. I think we all would have taken that at the beginning of the season.
To be fair to Oxford, they brought with them a good and vocal support. They harried and bullied us throughout and were a constant threat. Max Power’s dismissal on 19 minutes changed the game and probably cost us maximum points. But this team doesn’t know when it’s beaten and the equaliser on the 52nd minute from Charlie Wyke was slightly against the run of play.
It has been mentioned that opposing teams have had a lot of chances against us. And I was squirming on many occasions when Oxford players got into goal-scoring positions only to screw it up. Clearly, players at this level aren’t as clinical as in the upper echelons.
One thing that was clear, was that this is an incredibly scrappy league. Jamie Mackie was forever gnarling at our keeper and defenders. We’re going to have to get used to that - and the sub-standard refereeing.
But, it was great to see the stadium buzzing and that heads didn’t go down when Ricky Holmes fired Oxford ahead from a free kick in the 16th minute.
The fans expected a response and kind of got one.