Sunderland keep the momentum going
After the routine victory over Sheffield Wednesday last Friday and with two home games scheduled before the international break, this felt like a great opportunity to begin to address our questionable home form and ensure that we kept up the pressure at the top of the table.
It’s no secret that the Lads have often struggled to convert promise into points at the Stadium of Light, but this victory, achieved in a workmanlike fashion with some trademark flashes of skill and creativity, went some way to possibly addressing those issues and hopefully solving them as the season unfolds.
Watford, like the Owls, were a desperately limited opponent, and although they enjoyed some decent spells of possession, they didn’t really land any killer blows and our persistence eventually paid off, much to the relief of everyone inside the stadium.
It was a surreal atmosphere at times on Wednesday, with floodlight issues, some bizarre mobile phone torch displays and a heartfelt tribute to Bradley Lowery making for quite a peculiar backdrop to the game, but the players maintained their focus and the victory was a just reward.
The likes of Jobe Bellingham and Niall Huggins really came to the fore and this win was proof that we can win games without reaching peak velocity, and that’s often the hallmark of any side with ambitions of promotion.
The Niall Huggins comeback continues!
Only a heart of stone could’ve failed to have been moved by Huggins’ goal (which looked even better on the replays than it did live) and it was a wonderful moment for a player whose Sunderland career could’ve easily been in jeopardy after so many setbacks since his arrival in 2021.
A stylish toe-poked finish after a mazy run gave us a 1-0 lead when things were perhaps starting to feel a little bit anxious, and after two years of injury-induced frustration, everyone inside the stadium rose to applaud as Huggins continued his comeback with a notable contribution.
He’s clearly lacking match practice and there are elements of his game that can certainly be improved, but the lad deserves every ounce of praise he’s getting, and he’s also providing Tony Mowbray with another great option in defence.
Abdoullah Ba’s influence continues to grow
There’s something deeply rewarding about seeing young, talented footballers develop and become ever more central figures within a team, and although this wasn’t Ba’s most devastating performance in terms of end product, he was a relentless presence in attack, always looking to get on the ball and keep Watford guessing, and his goal gave us the crucial buffer as the second half unfolded.
Something has clicked for Ba in recent weeks.
You can see that he’s beginning to understand his role even more with every game he plays, and he’s channelling his energy and attacking instincts into something that's more refined and far more likely to cause problems for opposing defenders.
Is he the finished article? No, and that’s actually very, very exciting.
Imagine how good Abdoullah Ba of 2024, 2025 and 2026 could be if he continues to apply himself and refine the areas of his game that are still slightly rough.
Mowbray clearly has a lot of faith in him, and although he can and will undoubtedly play better, he was fully deserving of a place on the winning side last night.
Saturday’s clash with Middlesbrough is set up nicely
With Boro starting to find some form after a dismal start to the season and Michael Carrick repaying the faith shown in him by Steve Gibson, he’ll bring the Teessiders to the Stadium of Light with their spirits high and feeling confident of taking something from the game.
However, I think it’s time for us to no longer downplay the abilities of this team, and to resist the urge to use phrases like ‘Player X is really proving the doubters wrong’, because make no mistake: we’re building a superb team and Saturday’s game is another excellent chance for our young guns to shine and to take us into the international break on a high.
Some of our players will be experiencing this clash/derby/non-derby (delete as applicable) for the first time and the atmosphere will doubtless be highly charged and filled with noise, colour and passion from both sets of supporters.
If we can tap into that and channel it into our performance, we’re more than capable of securing another home victory, and with competition for places in a multitude of positions, Mowbray has some positive dilemmas ahead of the latest reunion with the club at which he made his name.
Bring it on!