The joys of writing in the wake of a Sunderland home victory. It’s been too long since I was able to offer an analysis after such an event, but it’s great to be able to do so.
After the shambles of the home league opener against Bristol Rovers, where we played as if we were wading through a vat of treacle, this was a chance to back up the victory against Oxford, to turn over a would-be promotion rival, and to haul ourselves firmly into the pack of leading teams.
Parky was still under pressure, and he needed his players to deliver.
And deliver they did. One firm strike of the ball from the boot of the ever-reliable Grant Leadbitter was enough to seal victory against a Peterborough team who, for the first twenty five minutes at least, appeared as though they would simply run through us and cruise to victory.
If edging these tight games is a prerequisite for promotion then we’ve just put a tick in that box. Yes, the debates about ‘papering over the cracks’ will continue to rage until we batter a rival team 6-0 (an unlikely occurrence under Parkinson, admittedly), but at this stage victories beat aesthetics hands down.
So, how did we do it? The early signs were worrying, to say the least, as Jonson Clark-Harris and Siriki Dembele took every opportunity to run at what seemed to be a terrified Sunderland defence, with our midfield duo of Leadbitter and Josh Scowen unable to gain much in the way of control.
Lee Burge was called into action on numerous occasions, and combined with our ongoing toothlessness in front of goal, epitomised by another woeful performance from Charlie Wyke, the first half had a familiar feel to it. For the first forty-five minutes the Lads were disjointed and seemed to lack sharpness, and a long afternoon seemed to be on the cards.
Mercifully for us, however, Peterborough didn’t find the breakthrough either.
The early stages of the second half were a mirror image of the first.
We found some momentum and began to knock the ball about with some genuine conviction, but such is our current weakness in the attacking third, that we simply couldn’t convert the pressure into that breakthrough goal. Denver Hume screwed a shot wide when he had ample time to compose himself, and even the introductions of Aiden O’Brien and Danny Graham failed to add much in the way of threat.
At the other end, the nervy moments continued, as Burge’s crossbar was rattled by a twenty-five yard free kick, and it seemed to be anybody’s game, until Hume was fouled, and Leadbitter kept his nerve from twelve yards. Relief all round quickly followed.
Despite the erratic nature of our performance, several Sunderland players acquitted themselves extremely well. Denver Hume, so often the subject of doubt, was excellent, with a noticeable upturn in the quality of his delivery, and his willingness to drive forward and be proactive was a major weapon. Leadbitter also contributed significantly, his composure and efficiency on the ball proving to be invaluable, even if his lack of dynamism out of possession did make for one or two scary moments. I had Leadbitter pencilled in as a fringe player this season, but the last two games have demonstrated that he still possesses qualities that the team can utilise, and that’s a real bonus.
On the other side of the coin, Chris Maguire appeared off-colour before departing with an injury, and you do have to ask, how much longer can we tolerate a lack of goals from our strikers?
I’ve yet to see any evidence that Graham, Grigg, and Wyke can combine to score the volume of goals that we’ll need this season. OK, it doesn’t matter who scores the goals, you could say, but quantity will be vital, and even if the goalscoring duties are spread around the team, I still see us falling short in that regard.
Back to back victories, then, and we’re hot on the heels of the teams in front of us. Do we currently look like a promotion-winning squad? Not quite yet.
Is there time to change that?
Absolutely. We’re now up and running, with a bit of momentum behind us. For now, as we seek to improve week by week, that’s good enough.