Over recent weeks, some supporters have questioned the mentality, grit and resilience of this Sunderland side.
Our form hasn’t been the best of late as we went into the game with only one win in our last seven matches. Of course, the standards were set so high within the opening weeks of the season, that anything below the bar that was set by the team is seen as a negative.
Last weekend’s frustrating defeat to Burnley after being two goals to the good added some rather unnecessary criticism upon the team. Yes, some of the ‘boos’ and jeers at the full-time whistle were deserved: a poor second-half performance resulted in the Black Cats slipping up three points, but in the first half of that contest, the home side played some of their best football of the season so far.
So, any criticism of the showing that day was always set to be hit with debate and scepticism – the negatives about the team’s lack of resilience and control spoke the loudest in the post-match conversations.
Yet, after Saturday’s showing at Kenilworth Road, Tony Mowbray’s men produced that fight and character that arguably has been missing over recent weeks.
We were under the cosh from the first minute, as the Hatters looked to bounce back from last weekend’s 4-0 defeat to local rivals, Watford, at Vicarage Road, so the quick start from the home side was perhaps no surprise.
Mowbray brought Bailey Wright back into the starting XI for his first start of the season, and his physicality proved crucial in the defence’s battle against Carlton Morris and Elijah Adebayo – both of whom are of 6’ 3” height.
Sunderland rode the Luton tide well and managed to find their route back into the match, before stamping their identity upon the contest. Danny Batth and Leon Dajaku both had efforts that hit the woodwork, before the Black Cats were dealt with the sucker blow before the interval, through Carlton Morris’ flick past Patterson.
After last weekend’s miserable second half against Vincent Kompany’s men, this was the moment where it was going to be very telling how we would react.
Post-match in Bedfordshire, the Sunderland ‘gaffer hinted at a half-time inquest within the dressing room, after Danny Batth claimed that he was pulled to the ground moments before Morris put the home side in front.
In the second half, Tony Mowbray’s side made small steps forward, getting back to the standards that were set so early in the season.
The resilience of the second 45 can’t be questioned; as the second half progressed, it felt like the match was beginning to filter out into another disappointing result for the Black Cats, but Mowbray used his substitutes wisely, and the dynamic of the game began to shift.
Perhaps the most significant of those alterations was the very welcome return of Ellis Simms, who gained his first minutes in a Sunderland shirt since that September night in Reading, and what an impact the Everton-loanee made!
Everything that the Black Cats have been missing was encapsulated into his 20-minute cameo appearance: he held the ball up impressively when it was needed, and provided that natural goalscoring threat in behind the Luton backline.
On the injury front, this was a massive step back to normal for Mowbray and his full-strength side, whilst as a team, this was one of the smaller steps forward that they need.
Yes, the team still only have one win in their last eight matches, but in a sense, it seems like everything may be pulling back together again. Saturday represented Simms’ return, whilst images of Ross Stewart’s recovery seemingly progressing in the week were welcome news for supporters.
Whilst, on the pitch, although this was not the complete performance from Mowbray’s men, it was a return to the resilient Sunderland filled with masses of character that we’re used to from the start of our Championship return.