What a Game!
I thoroughly enjoyed Sunderland’s performance today. It was incredibly eventful, with the lads giving me a nice dilemma in trying to slim down all the things I’d like to rave about from the game.
Yes, we may not have won, but boy did we give it a good go.
In the first half, we were very well organised defensively, with Watford’s first goal ultimately coming as a result of a fantastic through ball from their midfield.
I’m sure in analysis Tony Mowbray will be disappointed that Watford debutant Keinan Davis was then left unmarked at the back post, but on the whole we defended admirably against a side loaded with arguably Premier League level talent.
In the second half, we really brought all our attacking intent and talent to the party at Vicarage Road. I think we were unlucky not to win the game frankly, and I suspect under-pressure Watford manager Rob Edwards will have blown a huge sigh of relief at full time because we put his side under massive pressure at times.
It’s not a win, but I enjoyed this game enormously.
Brave, on and off the ball
At times today, things weren’t quite coming off for us. Especially in the first half, Watford’s pressing was causing us to play wayward passes. What’s so good about this side, though, is that they are determined to stick to their principles.
A great example today was the role of Aji Alese. Theoretically a left-sided centre half, Alese’s goal from open play was no fluke. He appeared to have been encouraged to play in an ‘overlapping’ role, and kept popping up in forward positions, both initiating moves and trying to get on the end of them.
This caused Watford no end of problems, and should reassure us as fans that in Dennis Cirkin’s absence, we have another mobile, forward-thinking defender who can contribute at both ends of the pitch. It may have left us somewhat exposed defensively at times, but I personally love to see us going for it.
‘Alex Neil could never’ - so a venerable member of Roker Report’s team described Sunderland’s late, substitute-inspired rally today. The five substitutes proved that our new additions now mean we have a squad who we can rely on to not just start games well, but finish them even better.
I’m sure Jewison Bennette will get plenty of attention after a beautifully cool finish sealed the point for the lads, and he surely deserves that. But a word of praise, too, for Amad, who ran Watford ragged and played a great ball for Jack Clarke’s disallowed goal. Jay Matete and Abdoullah Ba brought added dynamism to a tiring midfield. Even Leon Dajaku, despite an appalling miss through one-on-one with the keeper, put himself about to good effect.
Kudos has to go to Tony Mowbray. Ultimately, he took calculated risks without which we would probably have lost. We’ll criticise him if and when he gets it wrong, but today he and the team deserve massive praise.
How’s your luck?
While I’m delighted that we took a point away from one of our toughest fixtures so far this season, it could easily have been three.
Luke O’Nien’s own goal was unbelievably hapless - after his excellence this season, you have to feel for him. Leon Dajaku has rather less credit in the bank, but I certainly shared his frustration when he slapped the ground in anger after his late miss. More broadly, the referee did us no favours in several cases when we had penalty claims waved away.
All that said, this Sunderland team aren’t so easily deterred, and the way we fought back to grab a point was delightful. This is rapidly becoming my favourite Sunderland team of the last decade. We’ve got talent all over the place, and the system which allows us to use it.