As the second Crewe Alexandra goal hit the back of the net in the 38th minute on Saturday there was a sigh. Typical Sunderland. After building up a head of steam and winning three league matches on the spin, here we were, staring down the barrel of a loss.
The performance was so poor it was a throwback to a pre-Johnson era. Some of the defeats under Phil Parkinson were insipid and just plain boring. We offered nothing going forward and were sloppy all over the park. We could have had no complaints if it was three or four.
Luckily for us - it was just two and it was only half time. Naturally you look to the subs bench for some kind of inspiration - who can we put it on to really make a difference?
Suddenly the changes started making an impact. Jones went down the left and glided past their full-back on two separate occasions. Diamond was tricky and direct and committed players on the other side, almost bursting into the box and getting a shot away.
Crewe tried to counter-punch but it really felt as if our quality from the bench was making a difference. Maguire put in a succession of superb free-kicks and corners without any of them coming off. One found the head of Luke O’Nien who should have done better as we moved into injury time.
Diamond was also bright and eager on the ball on the right hand side, and both him and Jones were key in pinning back the Crewe defence and really keeping the pressure on. Of course due to the lengthy nature of Leadbitters’ injury we had nine minutes of added time and we finally got our equaliser. The ball dropping for Maguire to hammer home from distance.
We even had a chance to win it with the header late on - but that would have flattered us.
So much has been made in recent weeks of the starting XI, and in particular Charlie Wyke and Aiden McGeady, but you can’t rely on two players to carry the whole team. Rarely will any player at any level have a 9/10 performance every week, and so you need your squad to really play their part.
Earlier in the season there wasn’t much desire to bring on a badly out-of-place Will Grigg or Danny Graham with such a poor scoring record, or George Dobson, who has always seemed out of his depth when he played in the first team. On both Saturday and then again last night against Swindon (namely Chris Maguire), the players that were brought played a part and looked fit and raring to go.
With so many options now pushing the first-teamers for places in the starting line-up, and with the games coming thick and fast, Lee Johnson now has a nice headache as to who to play and why.
Fans will surely have no problem with the Head Coach rotating and offering fringe players the opportunity to start. Other recent additions, like Jake Vokins and Ross Stewart, will be itching to be involved, as well as injured players to come back into the fray.
The same players will also relish the opportunity now to play a more regular role in the first team and competition for places will grow and create a healthy atmosphere in the squad. The likes of Wyke, McGeady, Lyndon Gooch and others will be on their toes to nail down their place, with Wembley also on the horizon.
Who knows how the season will end, but with the squad looking stronger, it can only give us more of a chance in the battle for promotion.