We all know how this particular season ended up, but at the time, this appeared to be a big result for Sunderland and Phil Parkinson.
After a horrific last couple of months in 2019, which left Sunderland mid-table on Boxing Day, the team went on a positive run of form which was bringing them back into the race for promotion.
At the end of December, fans were calling for changes throughout the club. Parkinson had only won 2 games in the previous 14 after replacing Jack Ross, while calls for Stewart Donald to depart the club were becoming louder and louder.
Phil Parkinson changed the formation. He went with a 3-4-3 formation with wing backs in Luke O’Nien and Denver Hume and it appeared to be working. After some big wins against Lincoln and Wycombe in January, Sunderland came into this game in a confident mood.
They had kept four clean sheets in the previous five.
The club had also recruited in the January transfer window. Parkinson had boosted his depleted attacking ranks with the signing of Antoine Semenyo on loan from Bristol City along with the signing of Northern Ireland international Kyle Lafferty. It was the latter who would make a significant impact in this game.
It was International Fans Day on this particular weekend, and what a weekend it was. In an innovative idea, the club opened its doors to its fans far and wide. Fans came from branches all over the world. From Taiwan and Thailand, to Australia and North America, these fans got access to the stadium, training ground and got the opportunity to mingle with fans locally and further afield.
Yours truly even got to represent the Irish branch in the half time challenge, and scored a goal in the Stadium of Light!
The vibrancy and enthusiasm around the city that weekend was visibly felt in the 32,726 strong crowd. Two sets of fans arrived in big numbers - Ipswich brought 2000 of their own.
It felt like a big game - a game bigger than League One.
It’s hard to fathom how these two teams have fallen so far.
As for the game itself, Sunderland forgot to turn up. Ipswich dominated proceedings in the first half. The new formation selected by Paul Lambert for this game mirrored Sunderland’s - and it appeared to be working as the home team could not get to grips with it.
The best chances fell to current Wigan striker Will Keane, and James Norwood - the latter’s chance being cleared off the line by Jordan Willis after his lob caught out Sunderland goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin.
Something had to change for the home team - thankfully, it did.
The performance was raised substantially in the second half and backed by a loud, vociferous crowd, they had multiple chances to get the winner. The fantastic Bailey Wright came close hitting the woodwork, as did the industrious Lynden Gooch, whose positive marauding runs caused a lot of issues in the second half.
As the half wore on, the pressure was mounting. Kyle Lafferty entered the field with ten minutes to go and was impacting the game immediately. He was occupying defenders. Parkinson gambled switching to a back four, leaving the two target men in Charlie Wyke and Lafferty to get the goal.
It worked. On the 81st minute, it was Wyke’s low cross that was touched back to Chris Maguire by Lafferty. The Scot took the bull by the horns and rifled a shot into the bottom corner from 20 yards to send the Stadium of Light rocking.
Paul Lambert rued his team not making the most of their first-half domination and he said after:
We should have had the game won in the first half.
I just thought Lafferty’s physicality might make a difference.
He was right.
The win was richly deserved based on the second-half performance. With the extra few fans in the ground, it created a roaring atmosphere for the home team.
No doubt that goal made the journey all worthwhile for them. They deserved it.
Sunderland: J.McLaughlin, Willis, Power, Maguire, Wyke, Gooch (C.McLaughlin 90), Flanagan, O’Nien, Dobson, Wright, Hume (Lafferty 80). Subs not used: Burge, Ozturk, Watmore, Scowen, Semenyo. Booked: O’Nien, J.McLaughlin, Flanagan.
Town: Holy, Donacien (Earl 78), Chambers, Woolfenden, Wilson, Kenlock, Downes, Skuse, Nolan (Huws 71), Norwood (Jackson 71), Keane. Subs not used: Norris, Sears, Judge, Dozzell, Earl. Booked: Downes, Chambers.