“It’s Sunderland versus Hull, and IT’S LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!”
OK, that wasn’t exactly the pre-game rallying cry from Sky’s Daniel Mann, but nevertheless, the mere fact that our game on Saturday night was broadcast on Sky Sports was something of a novelty in itself.
We seldom get much TV time nowadays, so being able to watch this game in glorious HD was something of an unexpected treat.
Ahead of kick-off, the league table was less than favourable, but the points deficit to the top six was, somehow, a mere three points. With the ‘games in hand’ klaxon blaring loudly, we really needed to secure what would’ve been an impressive win to get 2021 off to a positive on-field start.
Unfortunately, early misfortune befell us in this game.
Attempting to chase down the ball, Malik Wilks tangled with Lee Burge as he rushed out, and on second viewing, it was clear that Wilks had, cynically, left his foot in and made contact with Burge’s face.
A lengthy delay followed, and minutes later, the question as to whether he should’ve been replaced immediately became academic, as an accurate free-kick from the returning George Honeyman was fumbled, allowing Reece Burke to prod home the opener for Hull.
It was another frustratingly scrappy goal to concede, but fortunately, our response wasn’t too long in coming.
Did you ever think you would see the words ‘Aiden McGeady’ and ‘towering header’ combined in one sentence?
Well, history was made on Saturday, as ten minutes after we fell behind, Jack Diamond looped a ball into the box, and the Republic of Ireland international rose impressively to head the ball past George Long. I suspect that when Lee Johnson brought McGeady back into the first-team picture it was for his ability with the ball on the deck, rather than his aerial prowess, but they all count, as they say!
The remainder of the first half was reasonably even.
Tom Eaves struck the Sunderland crossbar with a header, and at the other end, we were denied what looked a nailed-on free-kick, when Long charged out and made contact with the onrushing Diamond. It really should’ve been a red card for the Tigers goalkeeper, but in typical ‘League One referee misses clear foul’ style, nothing came of it.
The referee aside, Sunderland’s problem, as it has been for what feels like an eternity, was a lack of cutting edge.
Charlie Wyke endured a genuinely wretched first 45 minutes, posing absolutely no threat, and looking completely devoid of... anything, really.
With Will Grigg injured, and only Danny Graham for company, Wyke, at this moment, is still our best striker, which tells a rather sad story in itself.
Same old story in second half
If the first half was decent, the second half was anything but.
Sunderland were slow, blunt, and generally profoundly average.
The sight of Max Power, who was shuffled to right back, embarking on some dynamic overlapping runs was a rather entertaining example of Lee Johnson’s out-of-the-box thinking, and Diamond saw a chipped cross/shot tipped over the bar.
But other than that, there was precious little to get excited about.
The effort was there, the work rate was good, but the genuine quality, that which sets promotion-winning teams apart, was glaringly absent. To those of an optimistic nature, this may have been a ‘crucial point’, but in reality, another draw simply wasn’t good enough.
In terms of positives, the raw, but exciting Diamond impressed throughout, with his running and skill on the ball a major bright spot, and the much-maligned Josh Scowen turned in a decent night’s work, keeping things ticking over in the middle and recycling the ball reasonably well.
It was good to see Lynden Gooch back too, and hopefully, he can bring some more bite to our spluttering attack.
Major surgery required
There is little doubt that Sunderland are in need of major surgery.
The problems are many: a lack of pace, no guile in midfield, a blunt attack, and so on, and so forth.
The Kyril Louis-Dreyfus takeover should hopefully enable us to address the issues, but Lee Johnson must be afforded the time and the backing he needs in order to build a team that can play the way he wants it to.
Yesterday, the arrival of Carl Winchester was confirmed, and hopefully, more will follow, assuming we can box clever within the confines of the salary cap.
It is obvious that Phil Parkinson’s style of football is deeply ingrained in our players, and that isn’t something that will change quickly.
Automatic promotion now looks too far out of range, but the playoffs are still achievable.
Time will be needed, and patience will be tested, but hopefully, we can at least remain in with a chance, however slim, of making an escape from this league come May.