When Sunderland travelled to Ewood Park in the middle of October, Tony Mowbray was at the centre of his striker crisis.
That night, the Black Cats churned out a very positive performance, but were undone by the quality of Rovers striker, Ben Breteton Diaz, who stole the show for the home side.
Without a recognised striker, Mowbray was forced to utilise the ball-playing attacking figure of Jack Clarke as the main focal point of the attack – a move that had all the right meanings behind it, but ultimately didn’t pay off on the pitch.
Yet, just over two months later, and with two strikers in his arsenal, this Boxing Day triumph was firmly Tony Mowbray’s day on Wearside.
Back in October, if both Stewart and Simms were available, the narrative of the situation may have been entirely different, but it’s just a case of if, buts and maybes. What is concrete is that (for now) Mowbray has two strikers in his personnel, and how good does it feel to have them fully available for selection?
This was a Boxing Day that was less about a bumper crowd on Wearside on a day of ultimate success for the home faithful, but more about the relief being lifted off Tony Mowbray’s shoulders.
The gaffer came into the club at a turbulent time, and suffered the most damning blow within the first couple of days as both Stewart and Simms ended up on the long-term injury table.
So, after months of being left with no recognised strikers and having to clutch at ways to find results in the second tier, this emphatic day felt more like a relief off the shoulders of Mowbray. Some may say his Sunderland experience is only just beginning.
What it leaves us is a tantalising prospect, as 2022 comes to a close and 2023 kicks off. Mowbray has options in the forward areas for the first time in his reign: this was shown no more than in the final moments of the Boxing Day contest. The gaffer switched to a 3-5-2 system, opting for Simms to partner Stewart, and so it paid dividends.
Both strikers hold rather differing qualities in their own rights: Stewart simply is the complete striker, while Simms poses a more pacey threat with a poacher’s touch.
In behind the main focal points of our attack, Mowbray is left with even more forward options: Patrick Roberts threw his hat into the ring for a place in the starting 11, with an understated performance against Blackburn, whilst Amad Diallo - again - shimmered and shined in the number 10 position.
And it’s not to be forgotten, that the Black Cats have Alex Pritchard, Jewison Bennette and Leon Dajaku all on the sidelines, awaiting a recall back into first-team action. For some, the January transfer window will see them being shipped out for some match experience, while for others, the chance is there to stake a claim for a regular starting position.
For us, this can only be a positive thing: for once in this campaign, finally, things are looking up on the attacking front. The only thing that the club have to do now is to keep tight hold of our main starlets for the next month, and things can surely only continue to be on the up.