Always a bit of a worrier, I’d had a nasty feeling all week that I would end up missing what was a highly anticipated match.
Moving seats over the summer had meant new season cards, and with a bumper crowd expected I had visions off there being issues at the turnstiles – and despite the opposition I couldn’t see Sky being too keen on delaying the kick-off.
Adding these worries to both my desire to be in my seat for the fan display, and the early start time, I found myself setting off for the match not that much later than I would go out for work on a weekday morning. One of my mates meanwhile, who lives outside of the city, had to tape the Josh Kelly fight on Saturday night as he’d have been unable otherwise to get up in time for his transport. It meant for a surreal atmosphere walking to the ground but of course I ended sailing through the turnstiles without the slightest hitch; better safe than sorry I suppose, but it did mean I was left twiddling my thumbs for a canny while.
Being early did mean I got a real sense of the growing atmosphere however – the mood on Wearside has been good of late and by the time the teams were coming out people were buzzing. The lads and lasses behind the Spirit of ’37 had done us all proud, but so too have the team of late. I know there is little room in the game for sentiment but the squad that got us promoted have earned the right to show what they can do in the Championship – and it would seem as if Alex Neil agrees.
Yes, there is more to be done in the transfer market, but it does not appear as if the spirit and momentum built up from February onwards isn’t going to be broken up just for the sake of it. There was just one debutant in the side against Coventry City, and despite playing against one of the better sides in the division nobody looked out of place. Anybody new to the club will have to work hard to get into the starting XI on this evidence, although it must be said that if they are as good as Dan Ballard we’ll be laughing. The one new face we did see, Ballard slotted in well and hopefully points towards our continued improvement with regards recruitment.
Boosted perhaps by the magnificent welcome onto the pitch, Sunderland started at pace and took the lead with an excellent move. There was some very good football in the build up to Jack Clarke’s opener and we saw some other flashes too, but even without the ball Neil once again seemed to have set the side up well.
The visitors did come into it more as the half wore on though, and with the Lads unable to keep hold of the ball following the break Mark Robins’ side began dictating play. That could become a worry if we see the trend continue over the coming weeks, but despite being under the cosh for large parts we still managed to create a few decent openings. The side looked resolute enough at the back too, and it took an excellent goal from Viktor Gyokeres in the end to finally break Sunderland’s resolve.
Before that, Anthony Patterson hadn’t been tested all that much – although admittedly it wasn’t until I got home and seen a replay that I realised he’d made a superb fingertip save at the opposite end to my new seat. The only other real clear cut chance that I recall was of our own doing, and as the minutes passed it was looking like we could hold on. The players were putting the graft in and the likes of Patterson and Alex Pritchard had started running down the clock to good effect, so whilst it was disappointing to concede as late as we did, we won’t see finishes like that every game.
It was a little frustrating to see one or two Sky Blues players giving it big licks to the Roker End following the equaliser but perhaps I’m being oversensitive. There is also a good chance that it just stood out more because in general there was a lot less shithousing than we’ve been used to in recent seasons – okay, so the officiating was as bad as ever and the away support showed themselves up, but if either side could be accused of gamesmanship, then I suppose it would be Sunderland.
That is no bad thing in some situations; slowing things down and trying to take the sting out of the opposition in a tight encounter is a legitimate tactic and shows a bit of nous. I hope to see more of it where appropriate, and whilst we didn’t have quite enough for the win I think there was enough to be positive about; there was a slight sense of disappointment at full time but the otherwise appreciative response from the crowd would seem to back that up too.
1-1 was a score line that haunted the club during League One, but this can be a new chapter, and we can build on what was a hard earned point. Our city, and that draw, was indeed built on industry, and you are going to have to get up early to beat Sunderland this season.
My Man of the Match: Bit of a toss up really, as several players impressed. I’ll go for Danny Batth though, mainly because I didn’t expect him to start but he fully justified his selection.