What an eventful twenty four hours for everyone involved with Sunderland AFC.
Transfer deadline day can take you from the depths of despair to exalted highs at the stroke of a pen, and a tumultuous final day saw us seal four deals, with Mason Burstow, Nazariy Rusyn, Timothée Pembélé and Adil Aouchiche all putting pen to paper and our forward options finally being bolstered.
Friday night finally saw the end of Ross Stewart’s time with the club, with Danny Batth, Elliot Embleton, and Lynden Gooch all bidding us farewell, too.
Despite late interest in Patrick Roberts, Dan Neil, and Pierre Ekwah, Kristjaan Speakman held his nerve and retained all three players, to the relief of those of a red and white persuasion. Amid the furore, the small matter of our league fixture with Southampton seemed to get lost and the buildup to the game appeared to be non-existent.
Of course, as with any meeting with a side with the benefit of parachute payments, a progressive coach and the objective of promotion, expectation was naturally limited among our fans.
Stewart’s departure to Saturday’s opposition added a little more spice to the game, so were his former teammates out to prove a point?
Going into the match unchanged from last week’s 0-0 draw at Coventry, we had every right to be a little sceptical regarding Abdoullah Ba’s inclusion. However, with Patrick Roberts out and Jewison Bennette not quite ready for a starting berth, it was Ba’s time to make amends, and that’s what he did.
It was evident within a matter of minutes that Tony Mowbray’s men were up for it, as Trai Hume’s pinpoint delivery was met by Jack Clarke, who headed home to put us a goal to the good.
Just six minutes later, Ba emphatically expelled the negativity surrounding his individual display last week by picking out Pierre Ekwah, who responded to the crowd’s audible cries for him to shoot with a brilliant long range effort that was deflected past Gavin Bazunu.
2-0, and what a start.
In the minutes that followed and amid some sustained Southampton pressure, we were defensively solid, with an awkwardly impregnable press and a real degree of organisation. In short, we made the Saints look, well, ordinary.
On the stroke of half time, Ekwah was at the heart of the action once again.
Our cockney Frenchman stepped up with arguably the game’s defining piece of individual excellence, as he gladly intercepted a wayward pass by Mason Holgate, beat his man and whipped a shot past a helpless Bazunu at his near post.
Second halves haven’t really been our forte under Mowbray, so there was certainly an air of caution and a slight suspension of belief that we could win the game this easily.
Fortunately, that didn’t last long, as Ba’s cross-shot was nudged in by Bradley Dack in the forty eighth minute.
The middle section of the second half was really Southampton just trying to save face, whereas we were trying to preserve an elusive second consecutive clean sheet.
Ba, Clarke, Jobe and Dack made way for Alex Pritchard, Hemir, Chris Rigg and Jewison Bennette, who entered the fray with little more than a consolidation job on their hands.
At least that’s what we thought until Bennette’s string of crafty pirouettes beat three Southampton defenders before he knocked in a delightful ball which was headed home by Rigg to conclude a truly faultless day for the red and white wizards.
There are very few games where you can say with hand on heart that every player is beyond criticism but in this instance, we were utterly flawless all over the pitch.
A five-goal haul, a clean sheet and a dazzling collective display will certainly have eased any doubts after Friday’s business in the transfer market.
Although Ekwah was my choice as man of the match, our young side looked liberated, with seventeen-year-old Jobe bullying seasoned defenders, Clarke and Ba terrorising full backs, Bradley Dack looking like a seriously classy operator and our back five dealing with anything and everything that came their way.
This was a real statement victory, and one we have to hope we can really build on by going into the international break unbeaten in three games.
Haway the Lads!