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We got there in the end… but only just!

“I think Alex Neil’s refreshing honesty will resonate with fans, and it’s something we can get behind”, writes Jack Shields.

Ross Johnston

We got there... in the end... just.

The scoreline reads Sunderland 3-1 Fleetwood Town, but that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. It looks like it was a routine win, where the stronger team beats weaker team at home. The neutrals wouldn’t look twice.

But we didn’t half make hard work of it.

Look closer and you’d perhaps agree that the scoreline flattered us.

I always think particularly at home, there’s no excuse for not starting well. With thousands there following and the opposition who will no doubt be mindful of that fact, we should be constantly on the front foot, dominating possession and forcing the issue.

Of course, nobody is expecting to be 1-0 up after two or three minutes every home game like we were against Wigan Athletic, but there’s no excuse for slow starts. A Sunderland team at home shouldn’t need any invitation to be the team in the ascendancy.

Instead, we got a lazy, lethargic first-half display. The passing was appalling - I lost count of the times we gave the ball away without any need. There was little to no pressure or pressing when Fleetwood had the ball. Nobody was willing to stand up and be counted.

Instead, it was Fleetwood who looked like the home team higher in the league.

They played neat passing, intricate combination football and we couldn’t get close to them. We allowed them far too much space and time and it was no surprise when they took the lead. Even then, with 10/15 minutes before half-time you’re looking for a reaction from this team and inexplicably, we got worse.

I can’t argue with those that booed the team off. I have no counter-argument to that.

We did improve in the second half, we had to. It couldn’t have been any worse than the first. Everything we didn’t do, there seem to be more of. The passing was crisper, the tempo went up two notches, we started creating chances... amazing that, isn’t it?

The first goal was fortunate, I felt, but the second two definitely weren’t.

It was excellent build-up between Jermain Defoe and Luke O’Nien and it was great to see O’Nien slot home after his spell out injured. It was also nice to see Jack Clarke getting his name on the scoresheet for the third.

It was an excellent effort from distance to put the game beyond doubt.

The result is always the most important thing and the three points were as enjoyable as they were vital but we can’t keep going 1-0 down in home games. In six home games since January 1 - we’ve gone behind in five. This gives the opposition something to hold on to and we’ve all seen how effective teams are at frustrating us and getting under the SOL crowd’s skin.

I don’t think we should get carried away with the win however. We need to start matching performances to results and building momentum. This is a crucial spell now in the next few games. Crewe and Lincoln are teams we simply have to beat if we are aiming to get promotion in the Play Offs at Wembley. The win counts for nothing if we don’t get another two on the spin.

It’s in the very early days of Alex Neil’s managerial spell but I loved his post-match interview. He was quite clear in stating that albeit he was happy with the win, the performance was nowhere near good enough.

I think Alex Neil’s refreshing honesty will resonate with fans, and it’s something we can get behind.

Hopefully he isn’t saying it again this season.

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