It was meant to be cagey. It was meant to be nervous. It was meant to be one of those relegation six-pointers where just one mistake could cost a side so dearly that no risks are taken.
However, ninety seconds into this game this whole script was torn up and rewritten by a confident, clinical Sunderland side who found their form at just the right moment in a season that the gaffer would undoubtedly say has been “tough” so far.
When Emily Scarr, the rangy wide player converted into a center-forward by Mel Reay over the last season and a half, poked home a Tyler Dodds free kick, all the doubts dropped away, as did any thoughts that this might be a game where we were trying to break down a dogged red and green resistance.
It’s often been said that the Lasses haven’t got full value for their performances in the Championship and that it was only a matter of time before the goals started to flow, and that's exactly what proceeded to happen.
Pushing for an equaliser, the home side left acres of space for Sunderland to exploit via Scarr’s blistering pace. She put the extra finishing practice to good use with two fine strikes when running through on goal to complete an excellent first-half hattrick.
The assists, firstly from Jessica Brown and then from Abbey Holmes, were lovely too - the second in particular the result of the experienced fullback’s powerful drive out of defence. The celebrations for all three were a mix of joy and relief - as if a huge weight had been lifted off their collective shoulders.
The only negative point in the first half was an injury to Bri Westrup, who stretched to make a crucial, potentially goal-saving challenge in the box early in the game and hobbled off with what appeared to be a knee injury. In a week when both Keira Ramshaw and Faye Mullen underwent operations, the last thing we need is to lose another experienced head from the starting eleven.
So, with no defensive cover on the bench, the replacement for the centre back was Abbey Joice, Neve Herron dropping into the back four with consummate ease. But if anything, this enforced change made us more potent as an attacking force - Herron was able to distribute from the back whilst Joice played as a proper number ten with the freedom to drift.
A proper 4-2-3-1 with the right players in the right positions is, to my eyes, the optimal system in modern football and one that suits a technician like Joicey to a tee. She is my favourite Sunderland Women player, and yet her absence from the side for much of the season has gone slightly under the radar.
Her value was thrown into sharp relief when, a couple of minutes after the break, she received the ball on the edge of the box, stood up her defender, nonchalantly nutmegged her, and slipped Jess Brown in on goal. The young winger made no mistake with a neat finish and, at four-nil, the game was dead as a contest.
The vision, the quality of passing, the deftness of touch, and the ability to create opportunities from nothing that Joice possesses are a joy to watch at times. Given the freedom to do her thing - linking up the play through a timely dribble or a perfectly weighted pass - she can be devastatingly effective.
Late in the game, she played a back heal down the wing that had me whooping in admiration. She’s a unique talent, one of the Championship’s most underrated footballers, and someone whose skills should be recognised more widely than they currently are.
4-0 could easily have become 7-0, Scarr went through on goal - skinning the whole Coventry defense on the right-hand side but dragged her shot wide, and Jess Brown had a header saved from a couple of yards out. We hit the bar, we had shots deflected wide. Dominant hardly comes close to describing the control we had on the game, overwhelming would perhaps be more accurate.
Scarr will rightly grab the headlines, and Joice’s outrageous assist will make the season highlights reel, but there were other performances of note too. Moan was tidy and assured in goal on the few occasions she was called into action, Emma Kelly and Dan Brown kept the midfield ticking over without much trouble, but the final shout-out I want to give is to Tyler Dodds.
It’s been a difficult reintroduction to English football for the Washington lass after a couple of years as a peripatetic player. The Championship is probably a step up from the Italian or Scottish leagues, but on Sunday she hit all the right notes (and the bar in the lead-up to Scarr’s fourth) in a proper winger’s performance. She terrorised the fullbacks with the ball at her feet, her pace made her dangerous on the break, and her quality of delivery off set pieces was spot on.
Dodds needs to look back at this game and use it as fuel for the rest of the campaign because she added a different dynamic to our play and - with Jekka on the other side - and Joicey floating between the lines - we looked a very balanced and potent force in the final third for perhaps the first time this season.
This was a vitally important game, one we had to win, one that should go a long way to ensuring that we’re still in tier two next year, one that will imbue a real sense of belief in the squad ahead of next month’s derby against Durham and the cup ties we have in the next 10 days.
But it’s important that we don’t get ahead of ourselves either - it’s now abundantly clear that Coventry United are simply not equipped to compete at this level, and it was evident from the body language of their players that all is not right at Butts Park Arena. It must be hard turning out week after week knowing that the both odds and the resources are weighted so heavily against them. But that’s football.
Sunderland’s big games in the new year will be the two against Sheffield United and the return fixtures against Durham, Blackburn, and Lewes.
On Thursday we have a chance to pit ourselves against WSL opposition when Leicester visit in the Conti Cup. Given their horrendous form, there’s an opportunity under the lights at Eppleton for the Lasses to keep the momentum going, and then we’ve got two more cup games at Blackburn in four days to contend with before winter break.
The headlines from Sunday will all go to Emily Scarr, but this was far from a one-woman show. This was a team performance, one that the whole club can be proud of, and one that is a platform for the second half of the year.