The Early Goal
It’s such a cliche in football but goals do change games.
We saw on Wednesday night - the timing of the Lincoln goals were crucial. The first one was after half-time, and was a key momentum changer. It allowed Lincoln to gain a foothold in the game and take control.
We then had a strong period after the first goal when we searched doggedly for an equaliser, but to no avail. Then there was the pathetic and bizarre nature of their second - when we were on top really kicked us when we were down.
I think our chances hinge on scoring an early goal. We simply have to start the game on the front foot, play at a high tempo, create chances, move the ball quickly and get straight into their final third. If we do that, we will give ourselves a chance.
Ideally, a goal in the first 30 minutes will cause Lincoln to panic. Pressure sometimes does funny things to people and it might knock their confidence completely.
I’m very fortunate to be one of the 10,000 allowed into the Stadium of Light to watch Sunderland play again - though, some might say it’s actually unfortunate!
We saw Lincoln lift their intensity and passion in the first leg, and I’m biased, but the fact we’ve got ten thousand fans in the ground should create a bit of a noise.
Our fans have to try and get behind the lads as much as possible.
Be hostile, be aggressive, be loud, proud and loyal. Essentially, we all have to act like four Sunderland fans on Saturday. I know our desire and hunger for success can sometimes manifest the wrong way, but we have to stick with the team.
I'm guilty myself of sheer frustration at Sunderland when we don’t play as well as we can. You hear the groans at misplaced passes, poor efforts on goal and terrible deliveries into the box. I urge all of the Sunderland fans to try and stick with the team, be as aggressive as possible but in the right way. If we don’t manage to do what I touched on and get the early goal, we have to try and stay with them and not let our anger transpire onto the pitch.
I know a lot of our fans will have been desperate to get back into the ground, and it’s not the easiest of circumstances, but try to remember our collective love for this football club. It drives us all insane, but for 90 minutes on Saturday, we have to get on board.
Let's be that 12th man.
We’ve Done It Before
Who can forget the early December fixture with Lincoln at Sincil Bank? It was Lee Johnson’s first ‘proper’ game in charge, and we wiped the floor with the Imps.
Jack Diamond was picking the ball up and running directly, at high speed, against their full back; Aiden McGeady was back in the team and at his mercurial best; Charlie Wyke was potent up front; Grant Leadbitter had a good game and it was a comfortable afternoon.
We had a lot of success by the speed of our press and really catching Lincoln when they came forward. Instead of allowing them time on the ball to knock it into midfield and use their superior speed and mobility, we didn’t allow them to get out of their own half.
Instead, we attacked with a purpose, our play was as incisive as it was devastating. We had the luxury of three goals all in the first half and then controlled the game enough to never look in any doubt in the second. The fourth was the icing on the cake.
Okay, it was a totally different game and scenario but we’ve proven that we can beat these and comfortably as well.
Football Being... Football
Sometimes things do happen in football that defy logic, and that you have no explanation for - those head-scratching, strange situations make it such a watchable game.
Very few people, if any, will expect Sunderland to go through, but these unusual incidents do happen.
Who can forget 2014 under Gus Poyet? We looked totally dead and buried, nailed on for relegation. Suddenly we started taking points from Man City, Man United and Chelsea, producing title-winning form en route to survival.
There were Liverpool’s staggering comeback wins against AC Milan in the Champions League Final in Istanbul, and against Barcelona at Anfield. Manchester United won a Champions League title in ‘Fergie Time’ against Bayern Munich.
None of those things should have happened... but they did.
And what about what happened in 2013? Leicester City missed a late penalty in the Play-Offs against Watford, who countered up the other end (literally) to score to take them to Wembley. Or Jimmy Glass, the on-loan goalkeeper for Carlisle United scoring in the last minute goal to save them from not just relegation, but going out of business entirely in 1999.
Sometimes football just shocks you. It doesn’t follow any pattern, reason or logic.
The odds will say that Lincoln City are the favourites to go through. Very few teams have come back from a two-goal deficit to turn things around - but you just never know in football.
Let's give it a right good go, and see what happens eh?
Haway the Lads.