Attitude, application and desire!
If the collapse against Stoke City a week ago was an exercise in waving the white flag and surrendering with no real fight, this was the polar opposite…and then some.
Simply put, we needed to show that the 1-5 loss was not truly reflective of this team’s ability, and that our season would not fizzle out after Alex Neil’s side tore us to shreds.
To everyone’s immense satisfaction, that’s exactly what we did in a performance of ferocious commitment, immense discipline, and no small amount of creative flair.
From the first minute, we were at it, working hard on and off the ball, throwing ourselves into challenges with gusto, and generally sending out a message that we’re very much up for the challenge.
The energy that characterised our early and mid-season performances was back in spades, and the organisation was of a far higher standard. Norwich are a very useful team and we needed to show that we could deal with them- which we did through sheer willpower.
At the back, the partnership of Danny Batth and Dan Ballard was as reliable and resilient as we hoped they’d be, and Trai Hume looked to have regained some zest, too.
As a response to a poor run of results, this was about as good as it gets and against such a capable side as the Canaries, who edged us out 0-1 in the reverse fixture back in August, it might’ve been a surprise to some, but it was a very welcome one.
Huge credit goes to Tony Mowbray and his players. We asked for something, and they delivered for us.
Abdoullah Ba takes his opportunity
The injury-enforced absence of Alex Pritchard and Amad presented Ba with a rare chance to start, and he took it with aplomb.
The young Frenchman added some real drive and attacking impetus, and his first Sunderland goal was superbly taken, beating Angus Gunn with a well-struck and accurate shot from the edge of the box.
Ba also showed composure and maturity against a canny and streetwise Norwich team, and although he’s not the most physically imposing footballer, he made up for it with some wonderful touches and real skill and balance on the ball.
Chances have been fairly limited for Ba since his summer move from the well-known talent factory at Le Havre, but if he’s given a run of games between now and the end of the season, there’s every chance he could be a real difference-maker as we strive to keep our playoff hopes on track.
Luke O’Nien’s return pays off emphatically!
I love O’Nien. I have done ever since he arrived back in 2018 and I’m not going to bother disguising it in this article.
The man epitomises everything a Sunderland player should be: utterly committed, willing to put the team first at all times, and capable of mixing it physically and doing whatever is needed to dig out a result.
He marked his return to the starting eleven with a typically relentless performance, tackling himself to a standstill, heading anything that came his way, and throwing himself into blocks and interceptions like there was no tomorrow.
After playing a minimal role in recent weeks, he looked eager to prove a point against the Canaries, and he did just that. When we need some bite and someone who’ll do the hard yards, O’Nien is your man.
A lot has been made about the side’s technical ability for which we’ve sacrificed some physicality, but O’Nien rectified that on Sunday and hopefully he can retain his place in the team for the tough games that are still to come.
Who really cares about his chirpy demeanour, after all? He’s playing for Sunderland in the second tier and is acquitting himself superbly. That should be enough for anyone.
Mixed fortunes elsewhere for the Lads
Joe Gelhardt endured another typically up and down afternoon at Carrow Road.
His work rate and willingness to hunt the ball down in deeper positions was impressive and he regularly got himself into good positions, but he missed an excellent chance to make it 2-0 when he shot straight at Gunn (albeit while being challenged by Grant Hanley).
It’s still not quite clicking for the Leeds loanee, but perhaps it’s difficult to be too critical of his efforts on the back of such a result, and it’s obvious that Tony Mowbray will continue to stick with Gelhardt as he seeks to ease our scoring issues.
Elsewhere, Pierre Ekwah would’ve hoped for a more encouraging contribution, as he looked rusty and was yellow carded after making a rash challenge following a heavy touch.
He’s clearly lacking match fitness right now, and perhaps he’s another player who we’ll see the best of in 2023/2024, with the benefit of a full pre-season campaign under his belt.
Isaac Lihadji also made an appearance, and showed some neat touches and flashes of pace as we saw the game out. Like Ekwah, he’s obviously short of minutes and I’ve got no doubt that he’ll be a big player for us next season.