Winning a match with a last-minute winner at any level is the best tonic for a team, and you could feel the sense of joy and relief as Lynden Gooch’s header hit the back of the net in the 96th minute of the game against Charlton - which, quite unbelievably, occurred on this day four years ago.
It was the perfect start for new manager Jack Ross, whose Sunderland team was barely recognisable from the side that finished the previous season against Wolverhampton Wanderers in their last game of the Championship season.
Ross was still in the process of assembling a squad he thought could give Sunderland the best opportunity for promotion. His lack of bodies was highlighted by the fact that we started the new season with a midfield pair of academy product Bali Mumba and new signing Luke O’Nien.
In truth, the latter struggled and it was only when another new signing in Jerome Sinclair replaced the former Wycombe player - resulting in captain George Honeyman moving into midfield - that Sunderland began to gain a foothold in the game.
Before things improved, there was a horrid feeling of deja vu about the first half performance. Sunderland were sluggish and substandard - we looked very much like a team of strangers.
Chris Maguire, another of the new recruits, certainly didn’t help his new team out early in the first half when he made a ridiculous tackle on Karlan Ahearne-Grant that resulted in a booking and a Charlton penalty.
Lyle Taylor slotted it home, and Sunderland fans were already fearing much of the same was going to continue. With Glenn Loovens and Alim Ozturk in the heart of the defence the Lads were shaky, and looked very much like a work in progress.
New goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin brilliantly repelled Darren Pratley’s long-range shot to keep his side in with a chance as the half time approached - and better things were around the corner.
Thankfully for Ross and his shaken soldiers, they reached the break scarred, but not out.
The aforementioned tactical switches paid dividends, and with 19-year-old Josh Maja leading the line, Sunderland pressured the bewildered Charlton defence.
Adam Matthews, Ozturk and Loovens improved remarkably, and a deserved leveller thankfully arrived when Maja met Matthews's pass with his back to goal. After turning Patrick Bauer adroitly, the striker squeezed a well-weighted, tightly angled, low shot just inside the post.
The sense of relief was palpable and the goal offered Sunderland a lifeline and confidence boost they so desperately desired.
Charlton goalkeeper Phillips subsequently performed wonders to repel Maguire’s rising, curving, 25-yard free kick and the Watford loanee Jerome Sinclair stabbed wide from four yards.
Sunderland was asking questions.
After their first half dominance, Charlton were stunned and holding on with their fingertips.
After a poor set piece sailed by the crowded Charlton area, Bryan Oviedo picked the ball up outside the box. He floated the ball back into the box towards the back post where Lynden Gooch’s head was waiting to guide the ball into the back of the net.
With six minutes of added time, Sunderland had won it.
The fans roared and released the built-up tension of the last few years out of their system.
This win was for them. They could saviour it.
Jack Ross enjoyed it too as he did a merry dance when the ball hit the back of the net. He insisted this had to be a springboard for the team for the rest of the season.
I don’t think there’s a better way to win a football match.
Hopefully it’s a sea-change for us. But it was a really tough game. We were hanging in a little bit during the early exchanges, but I thought we were stronger as the game went on.
We deserved something from it.
It was a really competitive game, but winning in that manner is obviously something we’ll take. Their shape caught us by surprise, so I was keen to get two strikers on the pitch. Our players’ desire to get the winner was evident.
It’s a small step forward, and we’ve a long way to go. The fans were incredibly positive for us during the game, even when we were a goal down. There’s a perception that it should be easy for us in this league, but that’s far from the case and today was a good example of how difficult it’s going to be, week in, week out.
But it was an enjoyable afternoon for them, supporters will go home pleased, and hopefully we can develop a taste for that and do it more consistently.
The American match winner Gooch also stressed his relief:
The club’s gone through a rough time the past few years, and I’ve been here a long time, so it means a lot to everyone. The manager’s been really good with everyone, he’s been really upbeat and changed the mood of the place.
You can see it with the fans.
It’s a Premier League club, we need to get back, and he’s doing everything he can.
This was Sunderland’s first win on the opening day of the season in just under ten years - and I don’t think it could be denied that it was much-needed.