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Sunderland v Southampton FC - Sky Bet Championship

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Editorial: After a chaotic week, Sunderland stood tall and sent a message against Southampton

Amid rumblings of discontent about the club’s direction of travel and the loss of key players, the Lads rose to the occasion magnificently on Saturday.

Photo by Martin Swinney/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

You couldn’t have scripted it any more poetically.

On Friday evening, as deadline day reached its frenzied zenith, Southampton finally secured the services of Ross Stewart as the Scot’s two and a half year stay at Sunderland ended amid no small amount of dismay at what we’d lost and what the Saints had gained.

Sunderland v Southampton - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Will Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

However, by 2:45pm on Saturday, as thousands of supporters flooded out of the Stadium of Light and into a sunlit Wearside afternoon after witnessing one of the most thrilling and enjoyable home performances for a long time, it felt as though we’d had the last laugh.

Yes, Stewart ultimately got his move and we pocketed a solid enough fee in return, but on Saturday, the three points felt more valuable than anything else. A draw would've been a satisfactory outcome, but a victory like this? Beyond anything we could’ve imagined.

Sunderland 5, Southampton 0.

The team touted by many as being capable of ‘doing a Burnley’ and walking away with the Championship title were left in pieces after Tony Mowbray’s team turned the wick up to maximum and showed that possession-based football, for all its aesthetic beauty, means the square root of nothing if you don’t capitalise on it.

Sunderland v Southampton FC - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Robert Smith/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In what can only be described as a nigh on perfect home display we combined attacking flair with midfield steel and defensive resilience to devastating effect, and the final scoreline - for all of Russell Martin’s protests after the game - didn’t flatter us one iota.

Jack Clarke played as if he was fuelled by rocket propellent, Abdoullah Ba was unplayable at times, Pierre Ekwah strode through the game like a colossus and at the back, the central defensive combination of Luke O’Nien and Dan Ballard was as impenetrable as a submarine’s hull.

Let’s have it straight: if you believed the rumours and whispers on social media on Thursday evening, half of our squad was up for sale, the other half were supposedly hacked off at the wage structure within which we’re operating, and the club was apparently going downhill.

Some seemed to relish it as a chance to prove that the new way of working had somehow failed and that Kristjaan Speakman and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus were little more than a couple of smoke-and-mirrors bluffers, who were attempting to turn our great club into a glorified finishing school.

Fortunately, social media doesn’t reflect the views of the wider fanbase and as we watched Chris Rigg celebrating his goal, and our fifth against the Saints, all of the hysteria suddenly felt a world away as everyone rose to salute our new homegrown hero.

Sunderland v Southampton FC - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Robert Smith/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

From Clarke’s dazzling display to Jewison Bennette’s impudent pirouettes and Rigg’s heart-on-sleeve celebrations, this was the Sunderland vision of 2023 at its most emotionally powerful: young players given their chance and backed by their coaches and supporters to make the most of it.

Regardless of what the clickbait merchants might claim, it’s perfectly obvious that are no mercenaries or disruptive influences within this squad.

Instead, we’re witnessing a bunch of talented and hungry players desperate to represent this club to the best of their ability.

Watching young footballers develop in front of our very eyes can often be arduous and frustrating, but when they fulfill their talent, it’ll be immensely rewarding, too.

Yes, we’ve lost three influential players during this window, but we’ve also retained the likes of Alex Pritchard, Clarke and Patrick Roberts, and so the departures, as divisive as they may be, can certainly be dealt with.

Lynden Gooch’s move to Stoke was the conclusion to a seventeen year Wearside career, Danny Batth’s move to Norwich has robbed us of an experienced player, and Stewart’s move to St Mary’s was the conclusion to a drawn-out saga, but as their former teammates showed on Saturday we’re capable of absorbing such blows and moving forward regardless.

Sunderland v Southampton FC - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Martin Swinney/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Adil Aouchiche, Timothée Pembélé and Mason Burstow, got their first taste of the Stadium of Light on Saturday, and with Ukrainian forward Nazariy Rusin still to arrive, we’re now blessed with a degree of depth that’s been needed for so long.

It’s rare that you can say that an international break has come at the right time, but the hiatus in league action will allow the new arrivals to settle in and get attuned to our style of play, as well as giving some of the other lads a break and a chance to refresh.

You can only imagine what the trio of new signings must’ve felt after watching this display, but after an indifferent start, two wins and a gritty 0-0 draw in our last three league games have given us a foundation on which to build, and the post-international break trip to QPR is one we’ll be able to target as an excellent opportunity to secure a victory.

It was a mixed summer transfer window and it’ll take some time before we can assess whether it can be classed as a success, but Saturday was all about the on-field action and the players delivered in spades.

It’s been another hectic and sometimes surreal week of following our club, but when it all comes together, as it did on Saturday, there really is no feeling that can replace it.

Oh, Sunderland? We love you.


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