Saturday’s draw at Adams Park was a typically crazy League One game, with the most exasperating of endings from a Sunderland point of view.
There were six goals, some brilliant individual performances, and some frustrating errors that ultimately led to us drawing the game 3-3. Add another handful of officiating errors into the mix, and we were left to reflect on a game that was as entertaining as it was bittersweet.
To be 3-2 up with two minutes left and to concede an equaliser was a sore one, but in league terms, this was not a terrible point in the cold light of day.
Indeed, considering the backdrop to this match, perhaps it was a creditable result and one that keeps us at the very heart of the automatic promotion chase.
Pre-match, much of the discussion centred around the decision to fulfil the fixture, despite a Covid outbreak in the Sunderland camp that necessitated the hasty recall of Anthony Patterson, Jack Diamond, and Josh Hawkes. Kristjaan Speakman’s statement, in which he justified the decision for reasons of sporting integrity and a desire not to disappoint the travelling fans, was admirable, even if it wasn’t universally applauded on Twitter.
Needless to say it led to much intrigue in the build-up, but when the starting XI was released the changes were fairly minimal, with Patterson replacing Thorben Hoffmann and Carl Winchester returning with Bailey Wright absent. Granted, having the likes of Leon Dajaku available would’ve been a boon for us, but this was no scratch team, and there was enough quality at our disposal to secure victory.
Performance-wise, the first half belonged to Wycombe. Sunderland were fairly disjointed, unable to construct any sustained periods of pressure, and despite scoring twice, we often found ourselves struggling to cope with the admittedly effective, if not aesthetically pleasing, style of the home team.
Looking past the nature of our first-half performance, both of Sunderland’s goals were of immensely high quality, with Dennis Cirkin and Elliot Embleton providing superb crosses for Ross Stewart to meet with a towering header, and then a deft flicked finish, either side of a fully-deserved Wycombe equaliser from Anis Mehmeti that beat Patterson with the help of a slight deflection.
Wycombe’s second goal was contentious, to say the least. Defending set-pieces is certainly not our strong suit, and there were howls of outrage as Sam Vokes bundled the ball in after tangling (to put it mildly) with Patterson.
The argument in such cases is a well-worn one: ‘the keeper has to be stronger’ versus ‘how could the officials not see it?’. Initially, I believed the former, but on second viewing, it was clearly a goal that should not have stood.
As has been the case on a number of occasions this season, Sunderland did put in a much-improved performance in the second half, as our attacking game began to flourish.
Chances came and went for Embleton, Corry Evans (who was later stretchered off following a sickening collision with the onrushing Patterson) and Stewart, but all to no avail.
As the clock began to wind down it did feel as though the spoils would be shared, but when Stewart slid in to prod home a crisp pass from a Lynden Gooch pass, it seemed as though we had snatched the win, only for home skipper Joe Jacobson to spoil things in the dying embers.
We will never know, of course, but on another occasion, at that moment, the ball might have been hacked clear from Patterson’s save and he would become the hero of the hour. The young goalkeeper was not to blame for the draw, and it shouldn’t have a big impact on his long-term prospects in red and white.
Initially lost in the haze of disappointment were many positives to take away from Saturday.
Alex Pritchard shone like a beacon yet again - his skill and composure were a joy to watch as he controlled things with ridiculous ease, particularly in the second half. Stewart was a menace all day, and Embleton was unlucky not to score with a sumptuous curling effort that hit the bar.
On the negative side, the absence of Wright stripped our defence of its rock, with Tom Flanagan and Callum Doyle not at their absolute best, and this wasn’t a game during which Dan Neil was really able to make his mark, but that should be no cause for alarm as he continues to evolve into a genuine all-round midfield talent.
Tomorrow night’s game against Lincoln now represents an ideal chance to hit back with a vengeance.
There were bound to have been some slumped shoulders and a hint of deflation in the Sunderland dressing room on Saturday afternoon, and we have to show a strong and instant reaction. A potential fixture backlog might well hinder our promotion rivals, but we have to keep things rolling, and there is absolutely no reason why we can’t do exactly that.