It is well-known that Sunderland are famous for doing things the hard way. In fact, we’ve made a habit of it, but in recent years, it’s been more a case of not doing it at all, and often falling short in crucial games.
Our 3-2 win over Shrewsbury Town on Good Friday was another prime example of Sunderland getting over the line in the hardest, most nerve-wracking way possible.
Prior to kickoff, we had reached the stage in the season where the necessity for points outweighed the need for attractive football.
Indeed, attractive football is not something we can always associate with Alex Neil’s Sunderland, but we’ve got so much more about us these days. We are fitter, stronger, and much more resilient.
This match was certainly not good for the heart, although after fifteen minutes, it was shaping up to be very straightforward day at the office, after Elliot Embleton and Nathan Broadhead fired us into a 2-0 lead, and gave us the start we all hoped for.
And yet, we should all know better, because Sunderland simply don’t do ‘straightforward’, and our second half capitulation, which allowed Shrewsbury to gain a foothold and set red and white nerves jangling, was eerily reminiscent of some of our worst League One days.
As Sunderland slackened off, the momentum shifted towards the visitors, and when they made it 2-2 with just thirteen minutes of the second half played, the mood inside the Stadium of Light understandably changed, and the fear of dropping points at this crucial part of the season was sweeping across Wearside.
Chances came and went. Ross Stewart was particularly unlucky, and on another day, both of his late efforts, one of which hit the bar, would’ve gone in, and the standard time wasting effort from the visitors made it feel as though we were going to miss out on three valuable points.
Fortunately, this Sunderland side simply don’t know when they are beaten, and the last three games have provided yet more proof that we will grind it out until the very end.
The five minutes of added time on the fourth official’s board was met with a hearty cheer from fans inside the stadium. We couldn’t bag a late winner again, could we?
You better bloody believe we could.
Jack Clarke’s cross into the box looked like it would be dealt with by Marko Maroši, but to the surprise of probably everyone in the stadium, he failed to make strong enough contact, Broadhead got an all important touch, and the ball looped into an empty net, to spark pandemonium in the stands.
The explosion of noise when the ball hit the net is something I’ve not heard at a Sunderland match in years. In fact, not since the last-minute winners of the Roy Keane era have I felt such ecstasy and jubilation at a late, late Sunderland win.
It brought back memories of times where the raw emotion of supporting this club reminds you that all the anxiety we endure is trivial in the long run.
Celebrating these last minute winners is a fantastic feeling. It’s a feeling that, if I could bottle it and and sell it, would make me a very wealthy man.
The win was as stressful as they come, but in the context of the season it could be absolutely huge.
A late victory on a sunny bank holiday is always top notch, and if it helps us on the way to promotion then it will have been all the more sweeter in hindsight.