Make no mistake: this was no ordinary victory for Sunderland.
Ten minutes in, if someone had said that we’d eventually win by a scoreline of 1-3, it felt like an incredibly remote possibility, but for Sunderland of 2023, nothing is impossible and even fraught games can eventually be won in the most remarkable fashion.
Pre-match, there was plenty of intrigue surrounding our starting eleven.
Injuries have hit us hard in recent days, and the absence of Pierre Ekwah to a dead leg meant a minor reshuffle and a rare start for Alex Pritchard. Elsewhere, Mason Burstow, after a promising yet scoreless debut against QPR, retained his place up front with Hemir on the bench.
Sadly, there was no playing return to Ewood Park for former Rovers favourite Bradley Dack and our bench also wasn’t the strongest of the season so far, but hopefully our injury list will shorten over the coming weeks, thereby giving Mowbray plenty of positive selection dilemmas after the next international break.
The opening exchanges, with the Lads in their visible-from-space third kit, were very much tilted in the home side’s favour as they showed far more in the way of positive intent and we struggled to find any rhythm.
Rovers were seeing plenty of the ball, a couple of early-slide rule passes through the middle kept our backline alert, and there was also a minor fright when Harry Leonard broke clear, but the offside flag went up after he pulled a shot wide of the upright.
At the other end, Pritchard gathered possession on the edge of the box but a promising move ultimately broke down in what was our first real foray into their half.
Minutes later, Leonard almost broke the deadlock with a half-volley from an arcing right wing cross, but we escaped once again, as we did from a penalty-box scramble via a superb Dan Ballard block seconds later.
It had been a fraught opening for us, and there was no doubt that we were being outplayed, with shots raining in, the game being played at breakneck speed, and the Lads unable to gain any control.
As the half wore on, we gradually started to calm things down but there was still a chronic lack of shape and discipline, despite Pritchard showing some neat touches. Defensively, we were simply too open, and Ekwah’s absence was glaring.
However, there was soon to be a twist, as Jack Clarke was fouled in the Blackburn area, which gave us a chance to open our account against the run of play.
He made no mistake from the spot after getting back to his feet, and from nowhere, we were 1-0 up, despite the excitement soon being tempered by an injury to Ballard, who was clattered by Aynsley Pears, but eventually regathered himself to carry on.
Sadly, the lead didn’t last long, as Leonard promptly nodded past Patterson for a deserved equaliser. Ballard was off the field at the time and the question of offside was raised, but nobody could realistically claim that it wasn’t coming.
Fortunately, as the half drew to a close, we dipped into our reserves of never-say-die spirit and took the lead again, after Abdoullah Ba was denied by a combination of the offside flag and a great save from Pears.
With minutes left to play, the ball broke to Neil on the edge of the box, and his crisp strike nestled in the bottom corner for a scarcely believable 2-1 advantage at the interval.
It had been a captivating first forty five minutes, and surely the message at half time would’ve been to stay calm, retain possession, and not to present Rovers with any easy openings.
Just as they had from the very first whistle, the hosts started the second half positively, with plenty of possession and a dangerous cross from Sammie Szmodics leading to nothing, before Patterson made a sharp save from a Lewis Travis shot. At the other end, Clarke made an encouraging break but Burstow’s curled shot lacked power and placement.
With just over half an hour left, it was anyone’s game and you couldn’t help but admire both sides’ willingness to stick to their guns and serve up some enthralling attacking football in the process.
Mowbray’s first change was the introduction of Patrick Roberts for Burstow, but not before the onrushing Pears prevented Clarke from making it 3-1 with a well-timed challenge.
More danger signs were there, however, as a curling shot from Dilan Markanday clipped the outside of the post as the hosts kept pushing and the pressure was sustained.
Thankfully, we were able to resist before hitting back with a killer blow of our own, as Clarke broke into the box and calmly rolled the ball past Pears for 3-1.
At that moment, the elation from the thousands of travelling supporters was quite remarkable, as was the realisation that we were heading for another hugely impressive victory.
We eventually saw the game out for a third successive win, a run during which we’ve scored eleven goals, conceded just two, and showed everyone exactly what we’re capable of.
This Sunderland team is looking ever more impressive with every game they play.
Something special is being put together at the Stadium of Light, and it’s now on to Cardiff and what’s sure to be a raucous atmosphere as we continue to serve notice of our immense potential.
We should fear no team in this division, and if we can continue to combine skill and steel so well, this season could be a truly memorable one for everyone of a red and white persuasion.