In the end it was only a draw, but under the circumstances, it felt like a win.
Jack Ross’s Sunderland side came into this game against Walsall on a twelve-match unbeaten run, but were ultimately fortunate to escape with a point after losing Max Power to a red card, and generally turning in a sub-par performance.
It had been a decent start to the season, and to his Sunderland tenure, for Ross.
Josh Maja and Aiden McGeady had been the leading lights, but this game, as well as the encounter with Wycombe, led to some frustration at what were seen as bad performances against teams we should’ve beaten.
In keeping with the nature of League One, the game was completely chaotic.
Roared on by over 3,000 travelling supporters, we flew out of the blocks and created a raft of chances in the early exchanges.
Tom Flanagan headed wide a Max Power cross and Bryan Oviedo cut infield from the right hand side before firing straight at Liam Roberts, who then tipped over Power’s dipping twenty-yard half-volley.
Remarkably, we forced nine corners inside the opening seventeen minutes- from one of which Jon Guthrie made a vital goalline clearance to keep out Jack Baldwin’s shot.
However, Max Power’s red card gave the home side some real impetus.
The red card seemed harsh on Power, who’d challenged Walsall’s Liam Kinsella for a fifty-fifty ball, and we looked shaky from that moment on. Indeed, Tom Flanagan almost gifted Walsall a goal after failing to safely shield the ball back to Jon Mclaughlin.
One might’ve assumed that the second half would’ve presented us with an opportunity to reset, but it didn’t happen.
Andy Cook spread the ball wide to Nicky Devlin, whose low cross was neatly tucked home by Josh Gordon for his first league goal, a mere thirty nine seconds into the second half.
Walsall doubled their lead in spectacular fashion six minutes later, as Josh Ginnelly cut inside and unleashed an absolute rocket into the far top corner - which led to him spending more time celebrating in front of the away fans instead of his own supporters.
Ross eventually changed things around, bringing on Chris Maguire and Luke O’Nien, and we pulled a goal back just past the hour mark, as McGeady lashed a right-footed drive beyond Roberts from Lynden Gooch’s cross.
A spell of Sunderland pressure followed, with Adam Matthews mistiming a volley from Reece James’ deep cross, and as the minutes ebbed away, it didn’t look like it was going to be our day.
However, Gooch then stepped up- trapping the ball inside the Walsall box, turning his marker and thumping a shot into the corner of the net.
The scenes in the away section were a joy to witness as everyone in red and white breathed a sigh of relief, as Ross and his players got out of jail.
Walsall (4-4-2): L Roberts; Devlin, Martin, Guthrie, Leahy; Ismail (Morris 37’), Kinsella, Dobson, Ginnelly; Cook, Gordon (Ferrier 80’).
Subs not used: Dunn, Fitzwater, Wilson, Osbourne, Ronan.
Sunderland (4-4-1-1): McLaughlin; Matthews, Flanagan, Baldwin, James; Oviedo (O’Nien 49’), Power, Honeyman, McGeady; Gooch; Maja (Maguire 61’).
Subs not used: Patterson, Loovens, Ozturk, Sinclair, Mumba.