How do you like your victories? Gritty and tenacious, or free-flowing and joyous, the kind of game where the football is mesmeric, the ‘oles’ ring out with eighty minutes played and previously underwhelming players begin to resemble world-beaters?
As October gave way to November, the consensus seemed to be that victory against League One’s second-bottom side was a non-negotiable. Even so early in Phil Parkinson’s tenure, and with some green shoots of promise visible, results had been - Tranmere aside - sub-standard. We can all see what he is trying to do, implementing a more positive, attack-based style of play and making things happen ourselves, rather than being hesitant and passive. Promise, however, eventually needs to be realised. We needed a win.
And we got it, but not in the manner that many perhaps hoped for. With Southend low on confidence and Sunderland seeking to rediscover some match-winning form this was one of those games where you felt that, once one goal arrived, the dam could burst and another hammering would be on the cards.
Ultimately the dam held firm, and we were forced to settle for a less-than-comprehensive 1-0 victory. It was, fundamentally, a victory built on endeavour and discipline, sprinkled with some flashes of excellence as opposed to devastating attacking brilliance. Not one for the purists, as the pundits would doubtless say.
The standout performance undoubtedly came from Denver Hume, who showed positivity and desire by the bucketload and looks to be settling into his starting role nicely.
Yes, he remains raw and unpolished, but if Phil Parkinson maintains his faith in Hume there’s no reason why he can’t become a crucial player for us, not least because of his rapidly-improving crossing ability. Another noteworthy performance came from Luke O’Nien, who is rapidly becoming a contender for ‘Sunderland’s Most Versatile Player’. No matter where he plays, he embraces the challenge with gusto, and plays the ‘team game’ admirably.
We often talk about the importance of attitude when analysing Sunderland players, and O’Nien is an example of exactly how to conduct yourself whilst wearing the red and white stripes. What he lacks in top-class ability, he makes up for with a first-rate attitude, and never seems to show any frustration at being played in a different position from week to week. His goal - another diving header was superbly taken, and if he can continue to chip in with goals at crucial times, so much the better.
Upfront, it was very much a mixed bag. Will Grigg tried his hardest without a doubt, but drew a blank, and Chris Maguire seems to have fallen into a worrying slump in form. That three-goal salvo against Wimbledon seems a long time ago, and whilst an on-form Maguire is undoubtedly a key player for us, when his form deserts him it deserts him big-time.
Duncan Watmore’s introduction did at least give us an injection of pace, but there will always be question marks over his durability, as honest and as likeable a player as he doubtless is. Will Parkinson eventually take a punt on Benji Kimpioka? Time will tell.
At this point, whilst talking about players over whom question marks hang, you might think that I’m going to mention Aiden McGeady, and you’d be right. The Irishman, for whatever reason, simply does not look right this season. Time waits for no man as they say, and if we want to play the game at a higher tempo he simply doesn’t get into our best starting eleven.
Too many touches, too little quality. Lynden Gooch’s return will be welcomed, and who would’ve thought that, after how often the American was lambasted last season?
This was not the kind of game to be replayed endlessly in fans’ heads as they made their way home, and maybe it was never destined to be. Should we achieve our goal of promotion next May, we’ll remember this game far more for the three points it delivered, rather than the lack of quality over the course over the ninety minutes.
Bag the points, cross this one off the list, and keep moving forward.