Another victory, and a much-improved performance. Three more points banked, and perhaps, most importantly, yet more confidence and belief instilled into the team. After drawing our opening two games, and the discontent apparently beginning to rumble once again, Sunderland have slipped into a winning groove - and this victory, as impressive a win as we have seen for some time, was another step forward.
Up until now Sunderland had been very much a ‘forty-five minute team’, capable of turning in a stodgy, sluggish first half, followed by an improved second, or vice-versa. This was an exception to that. From the first whistle we were positive, proactive, and sought to impose ourselves onto Wimbledon by moving the ball around - showing good movement and generally taking the game to them - as opposed to inviting them onto us. We looked sharp, focused and business-like. The atmosphere was feverish, no doubt lifted by the presence of our incoming investors, and the players certainly seemed to feed off it.
Several players turned in eye-catching performances. Charlie Wyke offered yet more proof that, if fit and in form, he could be the kind of target-man to strike fear into League One defences. His aerial game was superb, and his hold-up play equally so. Lynden Gooch, much-maligned last season, played with zip and spark, and Chris Maguire, hat-trick-hero for the day, was his usual self: relentless in work-rate, and there when it mattered to score. His first goal caught the eye, and nobody was prising the match ball from his hands after the full-time whistle went.
From a defensive point of view this was generally a good display. The partnership between the no-nonsense Alim Ozturk and Jordan Willis is really beginning to blossom and Denver Hume’s performance - an energetic, purposeful display with some good runs down the flank - would’ve done his confidence a great deal of good. With one or two additions the defensive conundrum should hopefully edge closer to being solved.
Negatives? There weren’t many. O’Nien was culpable for Wimbledon’s goal, switching off and allowing Appiah to ghost in behind for a simple headed finish, and he did get dragged out of position too often, but if a natural fullback arrives O’Nien can hopefully finally be moved back into his proper position in midfield. Towards the end of the game we also became wasteful in front of goal. Grigg should certainly have bagged one and McGeady had a decent chance that he passed up also. We also moved the ball a fraction too slowly through midfield at times. Leadbitter’s performance was solid but George Dobson, with his energy and physicality, would’ve perhaps offered a better option. There’s no doubt that we now have four very capable central midfielders, which is reassuring.
The players should rightly take the plaudits for this win, but Jack Ross also deserves a lot of credit. He has ridden out the early-season storm and has emerged unscathed. He has tinkered with his team’s formation, setting us up in a much more solid system, and it has paid dividends.
It is becoming a recurring theme that Ross always seems to be only forty-five minutes away from some fans demanding he is sacked, but this victory and the manner of it will certainly have doused those flames, for the time being at least. Surely this performance provided Jack with more evidence of the team’s attacking capabilities?
We have the potential and the talent, so why not let it loose?
This victory must be put into context. Wimbledon were desperately limited opponents, and it is doubtful that many visiting teams to the Stadium of Light will turn in such an insipid performance as the men from south-west London served up. You expect a Wally Downes-coached team to offer some physicality and maybe a little bit of needle, but they brought neither.
Will we win every game in such a manner? No, but as the debate regarding style versus results continues, this was a rare victory for both sides of the argument.
Now we simply must keep rolling.
The midweek league cup game against Burnley will be an interesting test for us, and a chance to pitch ourselves against a top-flight team, before the focus returns to the league.
At this stage points on the board are crucial, we are edging into an ever more promising league position and hopefully with some more positive results we can find ourselves as pace-setters, rather than being forced to chase down the teams in front of us.