Neil loves the narrow margins
A shot deflected that almost dropped in, a deflected shot over, one off the crossbar, one narrowly wide, one straight at the keeper - those are the margins that meant that the game ended 1-0 rather than Sunderland being three or four up at this halfway point.
The advantage we take into the second leg is slim, but we can’t ruminate on what-ifs and wherefores. This tie was always going to be close – Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday are the two form teams in League One – and we finished with only a point between us after 46 games of the regular season.
There are no away goals in the playoffs and the advantage that we take down to Hillsborough on Monday evening really is only a half-time lead, but I think that Alex Neil lives for these tight encounters. He’s showing himself to be a manager who is over all of the details, who is as close to being on the pitch as possible, micromanaging the finer tactical points and solving problems on the pitch as they arise.
It might have taken far, far too long to get him in the post, but you’ve got to commend his recruitment as he seems to be thriving off the pressure and the situation suits him down to the ground. Those lads out there know they have a general in the dugout who totally has their backs but will also hammer them if they don’t do what he asks. And it works.
Darren Moore makes a worthy opponent
I like Darren Moore a lot. When he was at Donny, I thought he was one of the brightest and best managers in the country and the first leg cemented that idea firmly in my head.
His changes impacted the flow of the game last night; without that early second-half substitution, taking off the hapless Berahino for the industrious Windass, we could have been out of sight before 70 minutes were on the clock.
He kicks every ball as if he was still in his prime at West Brom, and has created a side in his own image that is determined and skilful. Man for man, I think we’re better than them. But we will have a hell of a task to complete on Monday night, and whatever the result we can be sure that we’ve come up against a good club shepherded by a very good manager indeed.
Alex Neil clearly respects - rather than fears - Moore and his team, and we all know we can’t take anything for granted.
Let’s do this more often
Wow, just wow. The roar produced by almost 45,000 supporters inside our still-magnificent stadium when we scored, the placard and banner displays before the game, the funny black cat’s eyes thingy that the club has had going on all week, the retro soundtrack purged of the last remnants of ear-splitting EDM... all absolutely mint. Bravo.
Someone, somewhere in the club has really got their act together on the marketing and event management side of things and, combined with the amazing self-organised, crowd-funded activity of the brand new Spirit of 37 flags and banner display group, it made for quite the spectacle (and made those of us watching from afar extraordinarily jealous of all you who were in the ground, as should be the case).
The club got the little details right this week. Getting the Lasses team on the pitch to be acknowledged by the Stadium of Light crowd was a fitting end to the great season they’ve had in the FA Women’s Championship, and there’s now the tantalising prospect of a Championship double-header in the offing for next season to look forward as well.
But this shouldn’t be a one-off. There’s no reason why we can’t bring that sparkle of the big game to every fixture. The players really thrived off the atmosphere, which is actually wonderful to see in and of itself as previous teams have felt intimidated by the expectation.
Many of us had almost forgotten what a full Stadium of Light looks and sounds like, some younger fans experienced that for the very first time, and there’s truly nothing like it in English football. Next season, whatever happens over the next two weeks, let’s hope that 12,000 extra keep coming.
A good TV build-up spoiled
One for the exiles and TV viewers, this. Sky Sports had their coverage of this match scheduled for 7pm, but those of us watching from home or in the pub were subjected to half an hour of a random golf tournament rather than half an hour of proper in-depth buildup to the game.
I was sad not to be able to make it up to the north east, but when I saw the TV guide I thought, right, grab a drink, get comfy, and let the pundits do their job analysing the teams that were set to participate in one of the biggest games in the domestic football calendar this season, interspersed with some nice features on both sides progress, all with the crowd noise building up in the background at the Stadium of Light.
But no, the programme heading on the main event channel on my NowTV player might have been showing Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday, but I was left frustratedly watching some bloke whacking his balls into a lake with a 9 iron or something. Golf has its own dedicated channel for those who want to watch it, I’ve no idea why people would do such a thing voluntarily and pay for the privilege - but each to their own I guess.
Anyway, at least we got to see the match with multiple camera angles and Super Kev in the stadium studio. The pre-match displays came over really well, and those images and sounds from the wonderful crowd will live long in the memory of the tens of thousands of Sunderland fans around the UK and the rest of the world who were tuned into the game.