The red and white bandwagon keeps on rolling!
Of all the victories we’ve achieved this season, this was quite possibly the most astonishing of them all, a genuine and full-blooded example of digging deep and triumphing against the odds.
We knew how high the stakes were heading into the game, given the congestion in and around the top six. In addition, there was essentially zero margin for error, especially after Tuesday’s draw against Huddersfield.
With a makeshift defence and in the face of West Bromwich Albion’s impressive home record, this might’ve felt like a game too far but as they’ve done so often this season, this young and fearless team defied expectations and came through to bank three crucial points.
Individually and collectively, Sunderland were exceptional on Sunday and it was difficult to highlight the standout performers.
Trai Hume was solid, Pierre Ekwah turned in another impressive performance, Abdoullah Ba played with real freedom and Amad was his usual lively self, always probing and looking for openings.
In the dugout, Tony Mowbray got his tactics and selection spot on, and he would’ve doubtless been thrilled to see his young charges deliver once again.
All season, we’ve spoken about the values that this Sunderland squad embodies, and they were on full display here: resilience, commitment to the cause, a refusal to panic in a pressurised situation, and a sheer will to win that eventually saw us home.
The upshot is that we’ve hauled ourselves into the playoff places and with two games left, there’s a very real chance that a promising season could turn into a truly unforgettable one.
Two-goal Cirkin takes centre stage
Given the injury crisis we’re dealing with, any sustained playoff bid requires our wider squad to play their own part in keeping things moving forward.
At this stage, the goals need to come from wherever we can find them and although we had decent chances in the first half through Joe Gelhardt and Jack Clarke, it was an unlikely figure who made himself the hero on Sunday.
Step forward, Dennis Cirkin.
The young defender has had a rough season with injuries of his own but at the Hawthorns, he stepped up and delivered when we needed to make the breakthrough in the second half.
His first goal, an emphatic header from a sumptuous Lynden Gooch cross, brought us back into the game and his second, a prodded finish after a wonderful team move, sealed the victory in thrilling fashion.
On such contributions can games hinge, and you have to give Cirkin immense credit for standing tall when it mattered.
Joe Gelhardt suffers for the cause
There’s been a significant upturn in the level of Gelhardt’s recent performances and his goal against Huddersfield was a rich reward for the Leeds loanee, who’s never stopped trying even as things haven’t quite clicked for him.
In fact, I’ll hold my hands up and confess that I thought he was a total waste of a loan deal, but he’s proven me wrong.
Against the Baggies, he led the line with admirable tenacity, despite being on the receiving end of what you might call ‘roughhouse play’ (to put it mildly) from the home defenders.
Time and again, Gelhardt was kicked and hacked all over the place, but he kept getting up and coming back for more. It was an immensely gutsy performance from the forward and he deserves a lot of respect for the attitude he showed.
His loan spell might not have been the overwhelming success that we all hoped it would be, but he’s won the hearts of many fans through his application and willingness to work tirelessly.
It’ll be one of the great ‘what ifs?’ that we’re unlikely to ever get the chance to see how he would’ve worked alongside Ross Stewart, but in the Scot’s absence, Gelhardt has given everything and that’s really all you can ask for.
Bring on Saturday’s game against Watford!
Make no mistake: this will be a truly electric occasion at the Stadium of Light as we get a chance to salute the Lads for the final home game of the regular season, but hopefully it won’t be the final home game of the season overall!
Watford and the embattled Chris Wilder have very little to play for except pride and to maybe keep their manager in a job until the revolving door starts spinning again (that’s the Hornets’ way, of course) so it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to take advantage and take another big step towards the ultimate prize.
The atmosphere should be highly charged and expectations will be high, but the players should be able to use it to their advantage and channel it into another exciting performance.
That we’re in this position with two games left is quite something given the obstacles we’ve had to overcome, but it’s also a thrilling prospect and I’m already looking forward to what’ll hopefully be another memorable afternoon on home turf!