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ITHICS Column 20/21

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ITHICS Fanzine: Did Luke O’Nien produce Lee Johnson’s ‘Mark Robins moment’?

Nic Wiseman of ITHICS Fanzine looks back on a key turning point in our season, and forward to – hopefully – a successful 2022.

Danny Roberts

I’m not the fervent supporter I once was. Not actually in the person anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I always seek out our result wherever I may be, but I’ve only been to three home games this season.

However, these three games can be seen as a useful illustration as to how we have progressed throughout the first half of the season.

On the 23rd October I went to the Charlton game. Other than the glitch at Portsmouth we had won six in a row in all competitions and were looking strong in the run-up to the game.

Nothing led us to expect the abject capitulation which occurred during that game. Johnny Jackson, a former Charlton captain, had just been installed as caretaker manager of Charlton following the sacking of Nigel Adkins.

On that day, Charlton battered us; literally. Their thuggish style of play pummelled our young naïve players into submission as their journeyman striker, Jayden Stockley, bundled the ball into the net. Charlton bullied their way to victory and the players had no answer. The same was true in the away games against Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday —making three supine league performances in a row.

Sunderland v Charlton Athletic - Sky Bet League One - Stadium Of Light
Sunderland struggled against Charlton’s physical style of play
Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Added to that, going out of the FA Cup and the Papa John’s trophy in successive matches made it an unhappy five-game streak.

And then to my next game. Ipswich at home in early November. Another lacklustre display with two teams unsure how to play each other. Like two featherweights fifth on the bill, jabbing unconvincingly at each other. And then, after 85 turgid minutes, a possibly season-defining moment. The ball drops on unmarked Luke O’Nien’s head from a corner and it seemingly bounces into an unguarded net. Cue five nail-biting minutes; or so you would think. But Ipswich had no answer and the referee inexplicably awarded us a penalty: to the astonishment of everyone in the stadium. Thereby sealing an unlikely 2-0 win.

Is this akin to the time Mark Robins scored at Forest to rescue Alex Ferguson’s job at Man Utd? Or Tony Cascarino fluffing a one on one with big Neville Southall to keep Howard Kendall in his job at Everton? Both United and Everton went on to great things under the respective managers.

Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet League One
Turning point?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images,

Since the Ipswich gift, things have turned around, up until Sheffield Wednesday arrived at the Sol on 30th December, we remained unbeaten in the league with four wins and three draws.

And the manner with which Wednesday were dispatched was far removed from the tepid display against Charlton. Lee Johnson certainly has beefed his players up. They looked up for a fight; they fought for every ball and didn’t give anything up.

So we entered 2022 in top spot. And things look cautiously optimistic. The turnaround couldn’t have come at a better time. A few additions in the transfer window should improve an already good squad.

Here’s to a promotion-winning 2022.

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