Nerves calmed and a crucial three points bagged!
After starting the 2023/2024 season with two frustrating losses in the league, either side of a fairly limp cup exit at the hands of Crewe, this was an ideal chance for Sunderland to get their Championship campaign up and running with a victory, and that’s exactly what we did.
Performance-wise, this was very much a tale of two halves: gritty and occasionally disjointed in the first forty five minutes, and when we fell behind to a goal from Hakeem Odoffin, nerves were jangling again as the Millers scented blood.
However, an instant response came through Jobe Bellingham’s quickfire goal, and from then on in, we slowly started to gain the upper hand. The second half performance, lit up by a superbly-taken second strike from the former Birmingham man, was much more like it.
With the likes of Jack Clarke in dynamic form, there were some promising flashes of the swagger and creativity of 2022/2023 and as confidence grew, the mood changed from one of tension to one of growing positivity, and the composed manner in which we eventually saw the game out was encouraging.
Ultimately, this was a game that we needed to win by hook or by crook, and the three points will give everyone a much-needed boost ahead of next Saturday’s trip to Coventry.
Jobe shines once again
If the seventeen-year-old continues to turn in performances of this standard, he can wear whatever name he likes on the back of his shirt, because this was a superb performance from the young attacker.
Two goals, the second of which was a well-taken strike from the edge of the box after superb work by Bradley Dack, and a performance filled with positivity, creativity, and confidence offered further evidence of why we were so keen to bring him to Wearside, and you get a sense that he’s quite simply loving life in red and white.
When it comes to his best position, perhaps he’s simply the kind of footballer that you can't shoehorn into a particular role. Give him the freedom to play his natural game with no inhibitions and he’ll reward you, and that was the case yesterday.
Bellingham’s workload will need to be managed smartly in order to avoid burnout, but after three league games, there’s enough evidence to suggest that we’ve convinced another exciting young star to make the switch to the Stadium of Light.
Luke O’Nien justifies his continued selection in defence
I have to admit that when the team sheet was published at 2:00pm, I reacted with a mixture of shock and concern when I saw that Danny Batth had only made the bench - and that’s as a huge fan of O’Nien.
To me, it felt like the kind of game where Batth’s experience and defensive nous would’ve been better suited than O’Nien’s more expansive approach but in fairness to Tony Mowbray, his continued faith in the Dan Ballard/O’Nien central defensive partnership was fully justified.
People often seem to forget that O’Nien filled in at centre back on a number of occasions last season and generally did a solid job.
Against Rotherham, he was his usual reliable self, helping to keep things settled and ensuring that we didn’t find ourselves losing concentration or allowing what could’ve been a nervy occasion to get to us.
He might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but after five years on Wearside, O’Nien remains one of our key figures and he would’ve been as anyone elated at the final whistle.
Onwards to Coventry....hopefully with some new signings!
Next Saturday’s assignment at the Sky Blues might look somewhat daunting (no wins there since 1985, for the stats enthusiasts), but we’ll go there with a spring in our step and a feeling of optimism rather than pessimism after seeing off Rotherham on Saturday.
Yes, new signings are still needed, particularly up front, and Mowbray hinted after the game that the arrival of at least one new centre forward was imminent.
Hemir came off the bench on Saturday and came close to scoring with a well-struck shot in the second half, but it’s obvious that despite his status as our only fit striker, Mowbray is still managing the young Portuguese striker’s schedule as he adapts to English football.
With the likes of Fulham’s Jay Stansfield and Zorya Luhansk attacker Nazariy Rusin continually linked with moves to the Stadium of Light, let’s hope that we can make some breakthroughs within the next week and head to the Midlands with more firepower at our disposal.
The squad isn’t a million miles away from being ready to compete, but there’s still work to be done, and hopefully some positive news won’t be too far away.