A strong sense of refereeing-induced injustice has pervaded SR5 in recent weeks, with the club falling victim to a series of derisory and well-publicised officiating mishaps.
After arguably our worst performance of the season away at Stoke last weekend, the Lads made a much-improved account of themselves away at Leicester on Tuesday night, going toe-to-toe with a side who have broken the record for best start to a Championship season ever.
Going into Saturday afternoon’s home offering with the Canaries of Norfolk making the trip up to the Stadium of Light there was an air of uncertainty around Mowbray’s selection.
While another loss would almost certainly have meant the start of a mini-crisis of confidence on Wearside, a win would have ensured that said crisis was averted, so, it was key Mogga got his team selection right. Norwich were also entering the game enduring a winless streak of their own, having not registered a win in their last four league games, adding another narrative strand to this prospectively tense affair.
Calls for Nazariy Rusyn to start and lead the line ahead of the underperforming Mason Burstow were answered when it came to the 2pm squad announcement; the only change from Tuesday’s starting XI.
We appeared to very much start as we had left off in midweek, on the front foot and with a point to prove. However, other than a Pierre Ekwah long-range effort, we still seemed to be hamstrung in the final third. In typical Sunderland fashion, Norwich pounced against the run of play, capitalising on Pierre Ekwah’s failure to play to the whistle after what looked like a Norwich offside. Grateful Norwich forward Hwang was put through, slotting the ball past a helpless Patterson.
While it was inexperience that was initially our undoing, our assurance and measure thereafter, was wise beyond its years, as we continued in the same, offensive vein. Luck has evaded us in recent weeks, but fortunately, we manufactured some of our own, with Trai Hume’s shot deflecting off Shane Duffy and into the back of the net, drawing us level. 1-1.
As we pursued a second, we ramped it up a notch offensively with Jack Clarke pulling the strings down the left flank and Patrick Roberts dazzling down the right, in what was his best performance in a Sunderland shirt in weeks.
On the stroke of half-time, our relentless pressure paid dividends, and a characteristically mazy Clarke run would see the winger leave a number of Norwich defenders in his wake before cutely slotting Dan Neil in, who neatly lifted it over George Long.
Following the interval, we continued to control the game, with Dan Neil and Pierre Ekwah dominating in midfield. Norwich rarely threatened, and when they did, Anthony Patterson was an ever-dependable presence in goal. The second-half was one of few chances, so unsurprisingly, the only goal came in the form of a Jack Clarke penalty in the 80th minute, sealing us a much-needed three points and emphatically curtailed what was beginning to be a vaguely concerning tide.
With the game ending in a 3-1 win, this was one of the most complete displays of our season thus far. Admittedly, Norwich were undeniably poor, but nevertheless, we turned in a seasoned showing across the park and crucially clinched our first three points of the month.
Nazariy Rusyn largely impressed in his first start for the club. He worked tirelessly off the ball, running the channels, leading the press, and keeping opposition defenders on their toes. There is still a rawness to the 25-year-old, but if he can build on this promising performance, he may well prove to be a solid acquisition and the answer to our striker-less woes. I’m also still convinced that Luis Hemir will find his feet and the back of the net, and when he does, I have an inkling we’ll unleash this inner goalscoring machine.
Special mentions to Patrick Roberts, Dan Neil, Pierre Ekwah and Dan Ballard who were exceptional throughout, but it was Jack Clarke who delivered yet another MOTM display in red and white, rightly stealing the plaudits and undoubtedly adding another couple of noughts to the several we’ll invariably command for him.