The waters of the River Wear have been uncharacteristically tranquil over the past week.
The timely release of the trailer for the third season of Sunderland ‘Til I Die, coupled with some golden tweets resurfacing from the Sunderland archive have coated what otherwise would’ve been a bleak midwinter week with a light-hearted gloss.
The build up to the clash with Plymouth at the Stadium of Light on Saturday afternoon was understated.
For the first time in a while, the pressure on both the players and Michael Beale had eased, and with Sunderland heading into the game in steady form, we were looking to kick on from a very respectable draw away at Middlesbrough last Sunday.
As far as the visitors were concerned, their travelling faithful were embarking on the longest trip in the Championship with reasons to be hopeful, having won the reverse fixture 2-0 back in November.
Unbeaten in four games, Argyle were heading to the North East in good form and were looking to extend that run, having won their first away game of the season last week.
There was little change from the starting eleven that took to the field at the Riverside last weekend, with Nazariy Rusyn replacing the misfiring Mason Burstow. Elsewhere, Jobe was rested, with Patrick Roberts brought in and Abdoullah Ba operating in the number ten position.
With thick fog obscuring the playing surface, the floodlights were on full beam as the game kicked off and there was little to separate the two sides during the opening exchanges as the respective midfields attempted to gain a foothold.
Eventually, we established a level of control, although we made nothing of our early possession. Jack Clarke’s shot was the closest we came to testing Argyle’s defensive resolve and despite a few promising set pieces, we failed to make the breakthrough.
As we approached the interval, a meandering corner saw Plymouth clear their lines and find Ryan Hardie, who in turn found himself one on one with Anthony Patterson.
As Trai Hume attempted to recover lost ground, Patterson was forced to close the oncoming Hardie down, but was subsequently stranded in no man’s land, allowing Hardie to neatly chip the ball into the open net.
0-1, and an infuriating sucker punch that was by no means deserved.
Despite heading into the break feeling somewhat deflated, it certainly didn’t dampen our spirits when we came out for the second half, with a Pierre Ekwah free kick evading Plymouth’s defensive wall and its ‘draught excluder’ to make it 1-1.
Following Ekwah’s equaliser, we began to turn the screw and wave after wave of attacks eventually paid dividends as Clarke found some space on the edge of the box before whipping the ball past Conor Hazard with trademark venom, putting us into the lead at 2-1.
With the bit between our teeth, we showed no signs of letting up.
In the sixty fifth minute, Jobe and Chris Rigg entered the fray and just two minutes later, Jobe found himself in a similar position to Clarke, and duly curled the ball home from twenty yards to strengthen our position further.
Following Jobe’s sublime finish, we were in cruise control and dictating the play as if it was a training exercise.
We saw out the remaining minutes of the game with relative ease, ensuring that we’re heading into Wednesday’s game with Huddersfield firing on all cylinders.
On a side note, it was good to see Romaine Mundle make his Sunderland debut, and Leo Hjelde looks a real find, with his ball-playing ability allowing him to alternate between left back and midfield when required.
Rusyn is another player whose dogged determination when pressing and running off the ball is really adding value to the way we’re playing, giving the likes of Clarke, Roberts, Ba, and Jobe the time and space they need to be at their very best.
A special mention must also go to Dan Neil, who was outstanding in midfield once again. Indeed, if it wasn’t for Clarke, Neil would be a fine shout as our player of the season so far.
Once again, things are beginning to look brighter at the club, especially on the pitch, and those of us who doubted Michael Beale (myself included) may just be beginning to eat our words. Let’s hope so!