Perhaps it was inevitable.
Even though we have built up a lot of momentum over the past month or so, our path back to the Championship was never likely to be a totally smooth one, and it is crucial to put this result in context.
After the exertions of the past few weeks- the brilliant victory at Fratton Park, a first Wembley success since 1973, and then a gritty midweek win against Accrington- there was always the possibility that Sunderland’s momentum would be checked at some stage, and this was undoubtedly that moment, so there is no need for optimism to dwindle just yet.
Any feelings of frustration immediately after full-time may well have given way to the realisation that, in actual fact, this was a decent point against a tricky opponent.
On the other hand, with both Hull & Peterborough only drawing their matches, it could be said that this was a missed opportunity to take another step towards securing one of the two sought-after automatic promotion berths.
Yes, we are still in a position of strength and there is no need for alarm, but it is imperative that this result represents nothing more than a minor blip, instead of a genuine plateau in form. Lincoln may have been in reasonably poor form themselves as they arrived at the SOL, but they left with a fully-deserved point, as Michael Appleton outfoxed Lee Johnson and ensured that the margins at the sharp end of the table remain very fine.
So, what was the root cause of this less-than-impressive home display?
Simply put, this was a lethargic, underwhelming performance that hinted that the impending week-long break between fixtures is much-needed. We can point fingers at the spectacular and disgraceful incompetence of the referee (not for the first time this season), but that argument eventually runs out of steam. Fundamentally, the finger of blame has to point inward, and that is where the real story is.
In reality, too many of Sunderland’s players weren’t on peak form on Saturday, and the team as a whole looked jaded and lacking in zeal.
Charlie Wyke was borderline anonymous at times, and without the pace and trickery of Jordan Jones, our potency from the flanks was greatly reduced. Indeed, were it not for Lee Burge turning in another supreme performance (another player who has turned his Sunderland career around impressively) we might well have ended up with nothing. Only he and Max Power emerged from the game with real credit, Power having enjoyed another impressive outing and played a key part in our goal.
The bizarre, fragmented nature of this game, a match that seldom flowed and wasn’t a great watch, was summed up by the fact that Sunderland’s goal came from the most unlikely of sources, as the much-maligned Callum MacFadzean rose to head home a pinpoint cross from Power, to give us the lead just before half time.
With eleven games left, you suspect that he might not be the only unlikely goalscorer we see between now and the end of the season. With so much expectation on Wyke, goals from other players could well be priceless, and this felt like one of them.
The second half was, from a Sunderland point of view, scarcely better than the first. We just couldn’t seem to bring about any sustained pressure, and Lincoln’s goal, which did have something of an inevitability about it, was thoroughly deserved. Callum Morton won a physical duel with Luke O’Nien on the edge of the box, and rifled a smart shot past Burge to make it 1-1. It was O’Nien’s first major error since being moved into defence, but it really shouldn’t represent a huge blot on his copybook. These things happen, after all.
There are few worse feelings in football than being reliant on other teams dropping points, but for the final twenty minutes, as the result on Wearside hung in the balance, it seemed as though we were all Shrewsbury and Rochdale fans, as they did us a favour by holding Hull and Peterborough to draws that maintained the status quo at the top of the table. If our 2006/2007 season is the yardstick, this battle has a long way to go yet, and it is perfectly possible that we will be forced to go right to the wire. That said, the team’s attitude in recent weeks suggests that they’re ready for the fight.
Next weekend’s match against Bristol Rovers, which will doubtless feature the inevitable & tedious Joey Barton sideshow, now takes on more significance. If Blackpool can do us a favour against Peterborough in midweek, we can head down to the West Country in buoyant mood, with a fully-recharged squad, and pocket the three points.
It’s still all to play for!