After the disappointing loss at Boro and an emotional start last night - kicked off with an impeccably well-respected minutes silence (followed by a rather unsynchronised national anthem) - it would have been easy to think the away trip to top four and unbeaten at home Reading could be a tough ask.
The Lads stepped up to a man back to front, though, and took three goals and three points down south in front of a very vocal 2000-plus Mackem away end with a cracking performance.
Although I backed the lads to win on the Roker Report Predictions page, I honestly had mixed expectations, especially after the recent loss of both Ross Stewart and Dennis Cirkin.
I was pleased to see Roberts start in attack, and I have looked forward to seeing young Alese get his chance too, though I would have preferred that to come about without an injury forcing it.
Before the game, I was also wondering whether we may be playing a back four after Cirkin’s injury, but we stuck with a back three, with Alese in as the left centre back slot vacated by injuries.
While that setup won’t always bring performances like last night, you have to throw the dice to have a chance with the gamble. Tony Mowbray needs to take some credit for his selections and how we set up last night, and especially how we reacted to the loss of Ellis Simms in the late stages of the first period,
The first half was for the first 35 minutes an error-strewn mess of a game. Possession was clearly not going to be a problem for us, but we showed time and again that we needed to use the ball better to find a way through.
There was some good early movement from Ellis in spells, but we didn’t create anything of note (nor did Reading to be fair). Though chances were hard to spot in the first spell, from the early stages some very good defensive play including strong tackles from debutant Alese made it clear he is a very good deputy for Dennis Cirkin. With showings like that, he will be keen to keep the spot he now has for more than another week or so.
When Simms went off after about half an hour, the pundits and us fans immediately made reference to our then total lack of strikers. Nobody would have seen what was coming, though.
A great run by Roberts on forty minutes and a great finish just inside the far post made it 1-0 to SAFC, probably one of the most clinical goals from nothing in a while.
As was mentioned by the Sky commentary team, it felt likely from the off that the team who got the first goal would take the spoils, and with that goal the lads never really looked back.
That was helped by the fact that within two minutes, Roberts proved this theory yet again, with a great counter-attacking second which started from the edge of our box.
Embleton, who came on for Simms and played very well, passed to Roberts via a sweet step over by Neil, and Paddy cut in then slotted with superb accuracy in the same bottom corner as his first goal.
We were two-nil up 42 minutes in, completely turning the game on its head with some great football and pinpoint finishing by Roberts, made possible by way better supply around him.
We have to hope that what we have learned last night gives us options for the remainder of the games where we will have to do without both our number 9 and our top scoring number 14.
Reading stepped up the pitch late in stoppage time, and Patterson made a good save low to his left on 46 minutes to keep our sheet clean, but given that was (I think) Reading's second shot on target, it would have been an undeserved one goal gap had they scored.
With a 2-0 lead half time, my mind switched to whether we can close out games despite the recent forced changes in personnel, and on reflection, we did that and more.
We kicked off the second stanza with a very controlled start, which was nice to see. Great strength from Danny Batth continued to mark the dangerous Joao out of things very well. The likes of Hoilett resorted to dirty tactics, and had VAR been in use the ref may well have sent him off when he put his studs all the way from Gooch’s thigh down to his Achilles. As it was, this didn’t even draw a yellow card, which was shocking from the officials.
Roberts’ confidence was clearly high, and when he put Dan Neil through on 59 minutes, it was clear we were looking for a third to kill the game. Neil couldn't control that chance, but he played a vital part in the third goal when it did come. In the words of the great Paul Ince himself, Sunderland “looked like Barcelona against them” on 69 minutes to take the third and final killer goal.
I don’t think I have seen as great a team goal for many years, to be honest. It started from our box, included back heels, one touch pin point through balls, and a Dan Neil assist to a clinical Clarke who slotted our third great finish of the night. He almost got another on 82 minutes, but his effort to lift it over the keeper went narrowly wide.
We could have had 4 or 5 and it would not have flattered the lads.
As if that wasn't enough to rave about, I have to mention the injection of Jewison Bennette, who came on for Corry Evans on 82 minutes. He looks very swift and very technically capable, and he had a shot well saved five minutes into his debut. Amad Diallo and Jewison both looked hungry and very much ‘at it’.
The desire of fans in relation to all our players is that they want to give it all for the shirt. All the subs did that last night, and my concerns about how we can navigate this period with a couple of injuries are way less significant post that game than before it, and at 35 minutes into it.
My Man of the Match: Patrick Roberts.
This was a chance for the squad to step up, and my goodness didn’t they just.
Roberts’ two goals in two minutes did just the trick and our contender for goal of the season from Clarke as early as September was the icing on the cake.
“They were like Barcelona against us” said Incey. Cheers Paul. We will take that to the weekend and go again for another three points, I’m sure.