Our youthful exuberance makes us a tough team to predict, so I didn’t really know what to expect from this one. The build-up was generally quite positive after we put in a decent showing against Sheffield United and Amad likely to make his return.
The first 45 minutes mostly consisted of both teams making unforced errors and repeatedly giving the ball away.
This made for a fairly drab affair with little goalmouth action other than timid long-range shots.
Aside from Dan Neil’s excellent effort from outside the box, we struggled to really break down Luton, who are a very solid Championship outfit with a good blend of youth, strength, experience and know-how.
Most of our play was intricate enough but lacked any real cutting edge, which seems to have become the story of our season after losing Ross Stewart.
Sadly, teams have now cottoned on to us having no focal point and minimal height/strength so set up accordingly. Often encouraging us to go long as, inevitably, the ball isn’t likely to stick.
Joe Gelhardt seemed to play deeper than most of the midfield at times, even popping up at left back once. I’m unsure whether this was a deliberate ploy from Mowbray, but either way, it didn’t work and ultimately left us even more isolated.
Over the last couple of years, the recruitment team has a lot of credit in the bank for all they’ve got right. However, a newly promoted side having to play half a season without a recognised striker is a pretty sizeable blunder.
Thankfully the second half was much livelier with both sides prepared to take more risks.
Patterson made an excellent save to push away a low effort from Alfie Doughty, but just a minute later he found himself picking the ball out of his net having been beaten by the same player.
Luton got the lead through a well-choreographed free kick between Cody Drameh and Doughty – however, this was taken at least five yards from where the actual incident occurred.
Football’s a game of fine margins, but for the officials to allow this to happen is another frustrating incident of many this season. Having said that, it was ultimately a very saveable shot that went straight through Anthony Patterson. No doubt he’ll be disappointed with that.
We huffed and puffed for the next 15 minutes then finally, the chance came. Jack Clarke did good work down the left and squared for Gelhardt near the penalty spot.
Unfortunately, the finish lacked any real composure or confidence and was dragged wide. I have to be honest when I saw the ball fall to him, I subconsciously thought he wasn’t going to put it away. It has just been the story of his time at the club.
Still a goal behind at the 70-minute mark with the game starting to slip away Tony Mowbray made the bold decision to make four changes. It looked a little desperate at the time, but in hindsight, it turned out to be a masterstroke.
With the introduction of Amad, Bennette, Pritchard and Gooch, we looked like a different beast.
As the game became more stretched, we stopped with the predictable sideways passing and allowed our attacking players to flourish.
Pritchard and Amad’s direct running and clever link-up play ultimately led to the penalty.
Rob Edwards looked close to tears about the decision to award it on ITV4, but for me, Amad got the wrong side and was pulled back. Stonewall.
The final few minutes was great to see as the fans got behind the team, and we ratcheted up the pressure. pinging countless dangerous balls across the six-yard box, asking to be put away, but to no avail… If only we had a striker.
When all is said and done, 1-1 was a fair result.
Man of the match - Dan Ballard
Hugely impressive performance again from Ballard, In fact, I can’t remember a time he didn’t play well!
Utterly dominant aerially and on the ground throughout against tough opposition, he sets a high bar and is an excellent example to his teammates.
We have to remember more is being asked of the backline in recent weeks as they no longer have the protection of Corry Evans.
I hope whatever contract he’s on is cast iron and includes the option for an extension.
Whatever happens from now until the end of the season, I’d like to think all Sunderland fans can agree it’s been a success.
We might not make the top six, but a huge amount of progress has been made in a short period. We’ve certainly got a team to be proud of, one that fights for the shirt and never gives up while also playing some outstanding football.
The best point of reference is Wigan and Rotherham, who finished ahead of us last season in League One. The former is almost definitely getting relegated, the latter is in serious danger. All the while, we sit comfortably in the top half.
It’s rare as a Sunderland fan that you can say it’s been a relatively stress-free season!