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There’s been a semblance of normality on Wearside over the last 12 months, a steadiness, a harmonious tranquility in the flow of both the direction the club is going in and this contemporary model that Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and Krstjaan Speakman have so ardently adhered to.
Of course, this is Sunderland, and normalcy isn’t a currency we tend to trade in, with Tony Mowbray departing on Monday night after a series of disappointing performances, as we subsequently found ourselves languishing in mid-table.
With the classic rumour mill going full circle, with the likes of Will Still, Frenchman, Julienne Sablé, and bookies’ favourite, Kim Hellberg all touted to assume the mantle of next Sunderland manager, Mike Dodds took caretaker charge of first team managerial duties for our game at home to West Brom.
After a lacklustre display at the Den last week, changes going into Saturday’s clash with West Brom were expected, with Mike Dodds giving Jobe a starting berth following a rest, as well as Patrick Roberts who was reduced to a substitute cameo in London last week.
We started gingerly, getting joy down both flanks via the dribbling acumen of Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts who were constantly looking for a proactive Jobe.
After early dominance, Jobe pounced on a spill from Baggies’ keeper, Alex Palmer, slotting it home only for it to be wrongly adjudged offside. Despite the early grievance, we continued to work the opposition with Patrick Roberts being denied what looked like an obvious penalty shout.
Despite a much improved first-half offering, the lack of goalscoring threat was still hampering us going forward, seeing our early attempts thwarted by a side built on defensive resilience.
The second half saw us start in the same vein as the first, with us imposing ourselves on our visitors, although, like the opening forty-five minutes, our possession and territorial superiority was to no avail.
Following some brilliantly intricate interplay, Roberts’ deft pass found Auochiche, who clattered an effort against the post, in what was the game’s biggest chance. As we continued to probe, Alex Pritchard replaced Auochiche, a decision that would subsequently change the game and our fortunes.
One of the diminutive playmaker’s opening acts was to whip a killer ball in from a free-kick, meeting the grateful head of Dan Ballard, who guided it emphatically into the back of the net. Deadlock broken.
For the next fifteen minutes, we looked relatively comfortable with Carlos Corberran’s side unable to break us down at the back. In the 84th minute, Pritchard, once again, was at the very heart of a rapid counter-attack that saw him slot a perfectly weighted ball into the path of Dan Neil, who, without hesitation, neatly dinked it over the goalkeeper to put us seemingly out of reach.
Despite West Brom retorting in the 86th minute through Brandon Thomas-Asante, making the final minutes a little tense, we swiftly extinguished any sign of a Baggies equaliser, seeing the game out with a very respectable win.
Special mentions must go to Dan Ballard, who was once again, ever-reliable, as well as Alex Pritchard, whose inspired cameo off the bench will have many calling for his inclusion from off against Leeds come Tuesday night.
Although Mike Dodds’ managerial record now looks a little healthier, taking his win percentage from zero to 33.33%, we can expect that he won’t be taking to the technical area for too much longer, with a permanent appointment anticipated within the next week.