Sunderland’s performance last night was one of those that you would associate with so many of the promotion winners in recent League One campaigns.
A rampant 4-0 victory over struggling Crewe proved to be the most lethal result on a night where it was imperative that Sunderland won, as they moved up to second.
Crewe came into the game second-bottom of the table, with only one win all season in League One - but despite this, they had only lost two matches in all competitions at Gresty Road so far in the season.
But still, it’s a type of fixture that would have followed the same old story in recent seasons in League One for Sunderland – one where they would have been very much behind the pace, finding it extremely difficult against a side that they should beat.
And throughout the 90 minutes, it was clear to see why Crewe are currently in the situation that they’re in - despite a ten-minute spell of pressure in the first half, they were simply carved open time after time, and Sunderland’s quality ultimately showed.
Yet still, it’s testament to this new set of players that are growing with each game – it’s completely opposite to the team of the past and in recent seasons, and one that is proving enjoyable and well-worth long midweek away journeys to watch this side.
Coming into the match, Lee Johnson fielded a side that held only one change from the weekend’s win over Gillingham, with the return of Aiden McGeady in the place of a suspended Elliot Embleton.
Yet again, it was a youthful bench, but Leon Dajaku returned to the matchday squad, as the German made his first appearance after his international break that saw him jet back off to Germany.
Before Tuesday night, Crewe had endured a tough start to their League One season, and within the opening 15 minute, it was looking like their disappointment and humiliation within the league was going to continue.
Sunderland looked positive, and were more creative in attacking areas than they were at the weekend at the Priestfield.
After scoring the winner at Gillingham, Flanagan almost had two in two, as his header from McGeady’s corner was tipped over by Jaaskelainen in the Crewe goal.
Alex Pritchard came even closer to netting the first goal, as his effort was fisted away by the Crewe goalkeeper, with the home side finding their feet in the contest.
Chris Long was looking like a clear threat for Crewe, and his effort produced the Railwaymen’s first opportunity, as his long-range effort was sent into the gloves of Ron-Thorben Hoffmann.
Crewe began to build some pressure as Sunderland became sloppy in possession within their own half, which created more chances for the home side, as both Scott Robinson and Kayne Ramsey had close opportunities to give David Artell’s side the lead - but both of their efforts were sent just wide.
After riding a spell of Crewe pressure, Sunderland began to build some pressure of their own, and were producing some marvellous periods of football - ultimately finding their reward with 25 minutes on the clock in unfortunate circumstances.
Pritchard’s dangerous cross from the left was sliced into the back of his own net by Terell Thomas – helping to ease any pressure that Crewe had put the Black Cats under only a couple of minutes previous.
The Black Cats were knocking on the door for a second goal, with Ross Stewart’s header from McGeady’s corner being diverted narrowly wide of the right post – but Stewart’s first goal of the game was only just around the corner.
Lee Johnson’s men carved Crewe wide open, as Pritchard’s dink into the penalty area found Dan Neil, whose chip to the back post was met by the head of Stewart, and his header found the back of the net – 2-0.
The away side should have had a third either side of the half-time interval, as O’Brien’s side-footed effort was sent just over the bar, before Winchester’s long-range drive drew a simple save from the Crewe ‘keeper.
The travelling away support didn’t have to wait long for that third, which ultimately sealed the three points. It was the simplest of all of their goals, with Pritchard’s corner eventually dropping at the feet of Ross Stewart, who only had to side-foot the ball into the bottom left corner from a couple of yards out.
It was always going to be Sunderland’s night, and after sealing the three points they had Hoffmann to thank for the clean sheet, as he produced yet another wonderful save to deny Mikael Mandron, clawing away the former-Sunderland striker’s effort.
Yet, you always felt like Sunderland had more in the tank going forward, and more they would exploit, with the fourth coming in superb fashion.
Dajaku galloped half the length of the pitch on the counter-attack, but despite having support, smashed the ball into the bottom left corner and past Jaaskelainen.
A rampant performance became more lethal for the Black Cats - and with less than twenty minutes remaining, Sunderland focused on their defensive solidity with the introduction of Bailey Wright. But, they still found ways to get forward on the counter, with Callum Doyle advancing - but no one was able to meet his pass along the face of the goal.
It proved to be an outstanding display from the Black Cats, whose evening was capped off by results around the country moving them into a firm place inside of the top two, with Wigan’s defeat to MK Dons and Wycombe’s goalless draw against Rotherham.
And like any, these three points seem significant.
All three points are pivotal for the Black Cats, but the way the night shaped up, they were made more important by the manner of the performance and the League One table.
Of course, Sunderland can’t keep hoping that their fellow pace-setters keep dropping points, but when it does happen, it makes victories even sweeter, and that’ll be what pleases Lee Johnson.
The levels of performance that we’re consistently producing now are making the long away trips worthwhile, and home games something to look forward to - and that’s not something that has come as a guarantee over the past three seasons... but now, things are changing.