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Sunderland v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship

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Matchday Musings: You can’t bloody win ‘em all... but at least we were entertained!

Ah well. Three points would have been nice, but a draw and a clean sheet only tell half of the story as the Lads turned in an entertaining performance. Gav’s here with his rundown of the matchday experience...

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

As soon as someone points out that there’s going to be a bumper crowd for a game, the horrifically pessimistic Sunderland fan that lives deep within me eagerly points out that it means that we probably won’t win the game - and when my fellow Roker Reporter Craig mentioned on Friday that we were all set for the biggest home attendance of the season, I have to admit that my usually glass-half-full self pondered the likelihood of a disappointing result.

Fast forward to now, and I’m writing this piece on the back of a 0-0 draw.

Neutrals probably look at that and think it must have been a boring game, but for me at least it was anything but.

Going to Sunderland games used to be a chore - I’m sure over the near nine years I’ve been writing on these pages that I’ve toiled over some insipid displays on various occasions - but these days it’s an absolute breeze, even when we don’t get the results we want.

The whole matchday experience is just great, and I swear it’s because there’s no real pressure surrounding the team these days after what feels like an eternity of watching the Lads either slugging it out for promotion in League One, or battling relegation.

The only expectation most of us had for this season was that we didn’t want to see the team struggle, and the performances and results thus far have shown that we’re unlikely to be battling at the wrong end of the table.

I’m not a betting man, but if I was going to put my money on anything it would be on us to challenge for a playoff spot over one in the bottom three.

Sunderland v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

I’m not getting carried away, though - I’d snap your arm off for a midtable finish now if you offered me it - but pressure-free matchdays feel like a complete breath of fresh air, and I’m loving it.

From rocking up in the city centre at noon and seeing no hint of tension or dissension in the ranks, to watching the long queues of people pile in minutes before kick off at the turnstiles, there’s not even a hint that people are worried about the direction of the football club right now.

And that all makes for the perfect atmosphere.

One of my good mates chose the Preston game as the first one he’d take his four year old daughter along to watch the Lads, and what a day to do it. The sun was shining, the crowd was large, the atmosphere was good, there was singing, clapping, chances galore and plenty of excitement - not traits you’d ordinarily associate with a nil-nil draw with Preston.

But, it was fun - the intricate, one touch passing, quick switches of play and attacks at pace that we saw at times against Watford and in full flow at Reading were on show here again, and this young Sunderland side are playing some fantastic football without the weight of expectation bringing them down.

It wasn’t all great - some dicey defending inside our own eighteen yard box, slack passing and close shaves ensured Preston were always in the game, even when we were dominant in possession - but it was good fun throughout.

Sunderland v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Patrick Roberts running at defenders is a joy to watch. Some of the long balls that got Jack Clarke in behind and one-v-one had us on our feet, and some excellent play to get us down the flanks saw some great chances created with nobody there to get on the end of them.

Patto made one really brilliant save, Aji Alese defended like a lion, Danny Batth led by example, Luke O’Nien stuck his head in where it hurts, Corry Evans kept us ticking over, Dan Neil got us forward quickly, Alex Pritchard dictated our attacking play, and the three subs - Amad, Ba and Bennette - all made an impact from the bench.

The only thing missing from the performance was a goal, because we certainly deserved it.

I’m not daft though, and I know it wasn’t supposed to be easy. Preston have the best defensive record in the league for a reason, and having stuck eleven men behind the ball it was clear that they’d come to spoil the match and get a point. They wasted time, shithoused the ref - who was absolutely terrible, by the way - made some clever fouls to break up the play, and managed their part of the bargain fairly well.

I’d say that despite our lot playing the better football and looking the more likely to win it in the end, a draw was probably a fair result. Preston defended excellently and still had a few really good chances of their own - they did enough to get the point and clean sheet they came for, and you have to give them credit considering how easily we’ve found it to score goals so far this season.

Same again on Tuesday? You betcha. If we play anywhere near that level against Blackpool we’ll beat them - and given that this side plays without pressure, I see no reason why we can’t do it. Bring ‘em on!


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