Today was always going to be a big day in shaping our season and if anyone expected it to be a comfortable win for Sunderland they were well wide of the mark. Roy Keane brought Darren Ward back into the team after suffering from a hamstring injury, Liam Miller replaced Whitehead who was suspended and Tobias Hysen came in for Anthony Stokes who dropped out of the squad completely. Although today’s attendance of 36,049 is very good for a Championship team, I personally felt it was a poor show from our fans considering we were playing the team top of the league and we had a lot of momentum going into the game, hopefully though after today’s result fans will keep flocking back.
The opening of the game was very tense with neither side wanting to allow any slip ups and was mainly played in the middle of the park. Neither side really got a grip of the game so there weren’t very many clear cut chances. On the 24th minute everyone in the ground was in for a massive shock, as we were awarded a penalty! After not having a penalty for 63 games it was surreal to have one now and we’d almost forgot what it was like to have one. David Connolly stepped up to take the penalty and coolly sent the Derby ‘keeper the wrong way. A fantastic penalty to give us the lead and we should have scored a second straight after, unfortunately John headed wide from Edwards’ cross. We were in control for the rest of the half and never really looked under too much pressure from the supposed best team in the league.
The atmosphere was absolutely electric during the first half and some praise has to go to the Derby fans for helping the atmosphere, though our fans were fantastic.
Derby pilled on the pressure in the second half and for the first 20 minutes or so of the second half we were unable to get out of our own half and attack them. The introduction of Barnes was a massive substitution for Derby. Derby almost pulled level through Howard but thankfully Hysen was on the line to clear the ball away. Derby always looked like scoring and they did on the hour mark through Barnes who walked past the Sunderland defenders on the edge of the box and smashed his shot past Ward. The surprising thing from Derby was that they seemed happy enough to reshuffle their pack to a more defensive look and settle for a draw, for a team which is aiming to play in the Premier League next season they didn’t show too much enthusiasm to try and win.
Derby’s goal seemed to shock us into life and we began to build some momentum going forward and looked more threatening, though we didn’t create too many clear cut opportunities. We kept pushing forward but time was running out and I was beginning to think the play-offs would be the best we could aim for as a draw wouldn’t have been good enough. Into the dying few minutes and Leadbitter gained a yard on two defenders and whipped in a fantastic ball into the box, Liam Miller had made a terrific run from midfield and glanced his header into the bottom corner. Fantastic scenes erupted from the goal, which lead to most if not all of the players jumping into the crowd. I can’t remember the last time I walked out of the Stadium of Light and was met with laughing and smiling faces from people going past, it was fantastic to see and long overdue.
MOTM – A hard decision as it was very much a team game and no-one really shone out from the rest of the players, despite this I believe Nyron Nosworthy was our top performer and was a rock in the heart of defence.
Despite things beginning to look up there is still a long way to go and a lot of hard work to be done before anything is achieved.