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After the highs of Tuesday’s Mike Dodds-inspired tactical masterclass against Leeds and the seemingly imminent arrival of an exciting young coach such as Will Still or Kim Hellberg, things were seemingly looking up on Wearside.
Unfortunately, those remnants of positivity vanished without a trace on Friday afternoon, such is the reactionary nature of the sport and more pertinently, the adverse reaction that we’ve seemingly developed to positivity.
The news that we were in advanced talks with Michael Beale to become our new head coach was understandably greeted with a swathe of skepticism, with the record of the former QPR and Rangers boss leaving a lot to be desired.
Adding insult to injury, the announcement that not only was The Spirit of 37’s planned display for the Tyne-Wear derby cancelled by the club, but that the first Sunderland-Newcastle showdown in seven years would see 6,000 Newcastle fans descend on the Stadium of Light, displacing over 4,000 red and white season ticket holders in the process.
With these murmurings of discontent not providing the ideal backdrop for Saturday’s trip to Ashton Gate, Dodds was taking temporary charge of the side for the third time in a week, and attempting to make it three wins from three.
With Jobe dropping to the bench and replaced by Patrick Roberts, and Pierre Ekwah returning to the side in place of Jenson Seelt, we were clearly gearing up towards an early offensive.
Greeted by chants of ‘Mike Dodds’ Red and White Army’, Sunderland walked out to the sound of the 3,000-strong travelling faithful as well as the watchful gaze of Kristjaan Speakman, who was accompanied by an unidentified figure that definitely wasn’t Beale.
We started brightly, pinning Bristol City back as Dan Neil, Ekwah, and Alex Pritchard began to turn the screw, stretching the play between Jack Clarke and Roberts on the flanks.
However, our lack of an out-and-out centre forward was once again our downfall, with the profligate Roberts handed the only real opportunity.
After a bright first twenty minutes, an Anthony Patterson howler saw the goalkeeper attempt to rectify his initial mistake, only to bring down Taylor Gardner-Hickman in the box.
Referee Stephen Martin, who was reluctant to award decisions our way all afternoon, pointed to the spot, with Tommy Conway putting the hosts 1-0 up.
The next ten minutes saw us weather a Robins storm and we were lucky to escape with just the one goal deficit heading into half time.
As the second half swung into life, so did Sunderland as we put together together some seriously intricate interplay- a trademark of this young side.
Unfortunately, for all of our creative spark and midfield domination, we were simply unable to make it count, thanks largely to a tremendous display from Bristol goalkeeper Max O’Leary, who saved point-blank headers from both Luke O’Nien and Jobe Bellingham in relatively quick succession.
After a blatant penalty shout was swiftly dismissed by another incompetent EFL official in the dying embers, Sunderland left the West Country with nothing more than a bitter sense of injustice and bewilderment at how we’d come away with nothing.
Despite a glaring lack of end product, this was by no means a poor performance from the Lads, who threw the kitchen sink at a fortunate Bristol City.
With this defeat sure to be Dodds’ last in caretaker charge, the question on everyone’s lips is who’ll be taking to the dugout come next Saturday?
One can only hope that it isn’t Beale as reported, who’d be seen by many as a step backwards under the current model, with the former Rangers boss having a questionable track record when it comes to results, squad harmony, and loyalty.