After a frustrating loss at the hands of Cardiff and some unnecessary inquests in the aftermath, Friday’s trip to Hillsborough was the perfect tonic as the Lads cruised to victory against a team who, even at this stage, seem destined for League One.
With Wednesday engulfed in mayhem as their owner laid into the fans in a remarkable pre-match statement amid a battle to turn around what’s been a dismal start to the season, it did feel like an away banker, but tradition dictates that these games have often been tricky for us.
After speculation about potential changes in the aftermath of the Cardiff defeat, our questions were answered when the starting XI was published. One change was made, with Patrick Roberts brought into the team and Abdoullah Ba rested.
Elsewhere, Tony Mowbray’s persistence with Mason Burstow, as Hemir and Nazariy Rusyn wait in the wings, felt like a borderline call after a low-key start to his Wearside loan spell, but against the league’s bottom side, surely this was his best chance yet.
For the hosts, the absence of Barry Bannan would’ve been keenly felt, and even if Xisco Muñoz’s team didn’t appear to pose a huge threat when the lineups were compared, we certainly couldn’t afford to take it easy.
With over 3,000 travelling fans roaring the Lads on, a fast start felt like the order of the day, and that’s exactly what we got.
Our first real drive forward yielded a free kick which was deflected behind for a corner, from which Dan Ballard duly headed home. The delivery was inch perfect, Ballard’s run was excellent, and the header was thunderous.
In the blink of an eye, it was 1-0 and two minutes later, things got even better when Jack Clarke picked up the ball wide on the left, drove forward, and rifled an unstoppable shot into the bottom corner for 2-0.
It was another outrageous piece of quality from the flying winger and it proved that as an attacking threat, there are few more effective players in the league at this moment in time.
At this stage, it’s worth remembering that a string of lowball bids were lodged by Burnley during the summer as they tried to lure him to Turf Moor, something that now looks ever more ridiculous and borderline insulting.
As the half wore on, we played with impressive discipline and efficiency in possession, and we didn't expend any more energy than we needed to.
There were no slack passes and no silly errors, with the midfield axis of Dan Neil and Jobe Bellingham keeping things ticking over nicely and Alex Pritchard and Patrick Roberts buzzing around dangerously.
Upfront, Burstow was a constant menace and although he didn’t get on the scoresheet, it felt as though he was more in tune with our style of play and perhaps feeling more comfortable as a result.
For the most part, Anthony Patterson had little to do, but he had to be alert and a speculative effort from John Buckley was palmed around the post before Anthony Musaba’s curling shot sailed high and wide from the subsequent corner.
On the half hour mark, things went from bad to worse for the hosts when the industrious Burstow was felled in the box after a smart turn, and the penalty was buried by Clarke for his second goal of the evening.
To be blunt, it was an absolute cakewalk for Sunderland.
The home side were woeful and it was easy to see why spirits are so low on the blue and white side of the Steel City nowadays.
There was no fight, little in the way of attacking spark, and Ballard came close to making it 4-0 and adding insult to injury, with a looping header from a Pritchard corner just before half time.
No changes were made at the break, and an early half chance came as Roberts opted to shoot instead of playing Clarke in for his hat trick, before another marauding run from the winger led to a corner that came to nothing.
Ten minutes later, a confident Bellingham chanced his arm from the edge of the box, but his shot was fractionally wide.
For Wednesday, a pair of Callum Patterson efforts, one of which was well-saved by his namesake, were the only moments of note as they simply couldn’t find a way back into the contest.
Just after the hour mark, Mowbray rang the changes.
Roberts and Pritchard made way for Adil Aouchiche and Ba, as our attack was freshened up for the final stages, and they were followed later on by Chris Rigg and Nazariy Rusyn, as Clarke’s evening ended without a hat trick.
The remainder of the game played out in a reasonably drama-free fashion as we eased off and sought to conserve our energy. A free kick from Aouchiche went wide of the post and Patterson made another smart save from George Byers, but that was about as lively as things got.
If we have a more comfortable away trip this season, it’ll be to a five-star resort on the South Coast and not to play a Championship game, because this was as easy as it gets.
It’s now on to Watford and what’s sure to be a lively Wednesday night affair under the floodlights. Another win, and we’ll head into the Middlesbrough clash with our promotion credentials strengthened even more.
Let’s prepare for the visit of the Hornets and keep the momentum going!