Last Saturday’s festive feature on Wearside paid homage to the late, great Shane McGowan, although, it was boos that rang out and not the bells at the Stadium of Light when the final whistle blew. With our own Michaelmas Beale carted in, in the hope he could reinstate some Christmas cheer and get a carol or two out of our unharmonious footballing choir, it was left to Boxing Day to deliver good tidings down at Liam Rosenior’s Hull.
While Mick Beale wasn’t wearing his Christmas presents, like Tony Mowbray and his Boss gilet last season, the new gaffer did bring the sold-out away end one Christmas pressie - unfortunately, that gift was a gigantic lump of coal in the form of Bradley Dack, given an undeserved starting berth.
While it’s still early days in Beale’s tenure, with our new manager still gauging the card he’s been dealt, drastic changes were expected prior to our trip to Humberside following the dismal performance against Coventry. Jenson Seelt came into the side to replace the injured Niall Huggins and Dack took over from the underwhelming Abdoullah Ba. Aside from the aforementioned, we remained unchanged.
With Jude Bellingham — Sunderland’s newest, and most famous fan in attendance — it was left to the players to bring the galactico experience to the MKM Stadium.
We started with the initial injection of vigour we’ve become so accustomed to, yet naturally like recent performances would indicate, it would take just one opposition goal against the run of play for heads to drop.
Fortunately we contained Hull expertly, with Jenson Seelt once again throwing his hat into the ring for a permanent slot in the starting XI. We spent large portions of the opening 45 minutes camped in Hull’s half, but the hosts continually frustrated us with a well-drilled low block that seems to have been our kryptonite this term.
Despite our dominance, Dack’s ineffectiveness in that false nine role and the lack of an out-and-out forward presence really hampered us as we looked to make our territorial advantage count. With the first half finishing all square at 0-0, we still had it all to do.
There was more of an openness to the early exchanges in the second half in what seemed to be an end-to-end affair, with both sides coming close. Patrick Roberts should arguably have scored, as should have Ozan Tufan for the Tigers.
We gradually began to reassert ourselves — and with the reintroduction of Alex Pritchard, who missed Saturday’s capitulation due to illness, we looked a far better outfit. As the game seemed to be fizzling out, Jack Clarke stepped forward, as he so often has this season, cutting in from the left and firing the ball past Ingram to send the away end in the far corner into raptures.
Implementing some game management, Beale brought on Nectar Triantis, who shored up our back-line and helped see out what was a very invaluable away win, and one that sees us climb back into the top six.
Without Jack Clarke’s contributions this season we’d be languishing in 16th, on 28 points, further signifying to both Kristjaan Speakman and Kyril Louis Dreyfus that the acquisition of a striker come January is paramount to our playoff hopes.
The natural goalscorer aside, playing with a prolific man up-top — as seen with Ross Stewart (in spells) last season — allows for more space for the likes of Clarke and Roberts to work their magic and stretch play.
Talking of January deals — while I’m a real fan of Anthony Patterson, our number one has made a string of seriously questionable errors in recent weeks and his distribution has been far from convincing. With Nathan Bishop clearly not favoured, there is a real sense of complacency around himat the minute, and he could certainly benefit from stiffer competition.
All in all this Boxing Day display shouldn’t be undervalued, and will have helped restore confidence in a young side devoid of it in recent weeks.