On the way to the ground it felt like it was the first game of the season, with glorious sunshine and plenty of red and white strips all around the ground. The anticipation and excitement that normally comes with the opening game was also felt as the teams lined up at the start of the game. The reason for this excitement is due to one man and one man only, Roy Keane, who has turned everything around in his spell as Sunderland manager producing an amazing run of 15 games unbeaten. This victory over play off hopefuls Wolves just proves that complacency and worry are not evident in his squad as we pushed into the top two and hopefully stay there until the final game of the season against Luton Town.
Sunderland lined up surprisingly without in form Connolly to make way for a partnership of the tall Stern John and busy Daryl Murphy. Wallace replaced Hysen and both of these changes ended up in deciding the game as the two replacements got the goals and the three points to keep Sunderland firmly in position for automatic promotion. Another expected change was Edwards brought back onto the right hand side of midfield and with his performance and pace it is clear to see just exactly what he is capable of when running at the defence.
The first opening was created by Edwards blistering pace along the touchline of the SWC only for his deep cross to evade any red and white shirt but the opening spells showed signs of encouragement. The attacking flow was clear to see but a few bad passes (mostly from Whitehead) assured the 40,748 that this would not be an easy ride. After a spell of good movement from midfield the ball fell luckily to Murphy who decided to recreate one of the golden moments of EURO 1996. He received the ball in the box and even though his first touch let him down the second, which was a delightful flick over Collins head allowed him to create the room needed to drill under the keeper. It was a great goal and again shows why Keane’s decisions never seem to be wrong as the Irish youngster settled any doubts in the 16th minute.
As the cries of “we want six” died down the game kept moving in the direction of Sunderland as Miller crossed in to John who somehow failed to get the ball out of his feet and missed a great chance to make it 2-0. It was a good save and there was some pulling on his shirt but a penalty decision would have been harsh. It was all Sunderland as Edwards directness and movement allowed us to push forward a lot more than previous games and a Wallace low drive was just wide in the 25th minute. Although we did dominate possession there was a feeling that another goal would finish the game off and stop any threat of them countering our attacks.
Nyron as always was a rock at the back and thwarted any chances of their attackers getting clean through. Whitehead who did not perform to his usual high standards nearly assisted the second goal just before the break as his low cross was turned goal wards by John, only to see his effort bounce off the post and along the wrong side of the goal line.
Looking at the half-time results it felt like it was going to be a day that would favour our promotion push and after we came out in the second half this was confirmed by the second goal. Murphy who had already scored a “Gazza-esque’ goal took the ball on the right hand side and crossed deep to find the wee Scot, Wallace at the back stick to nod home. 2-0 and we were cruising!
As the euphoria of being second in the league had settled they decided to spoil the sunshine party at the SoL by equalising straight after with a good header. The ball crossed in by McEnroe beat both Nyron and Evans to find the head of another in form Irishman Keogh to bring the game and excitement back to normal. Normally in these types of positions the old Sunderland would have waved the white flag and caved in but the Roy Keane spirit was there and we managed to hold on and keep another vital three points.
The introduction of Leadbitter and Elliott relieved some of the pressure that Wolves threw at our defence but in all honesty we should have won the game by three or four if we could have taken our chances.
With Connolly and Elliott getting a run out it is clear to see that our squad is huge in potential and also ability and this is good news for the trip to St. Mary’s on Monday. The highlight of the day was that I knew Burnley was winning at St. Andrews but in typical Sunderland fashion they made the most of it by delaying the result until the last moment. When the scoreboard flashed up Brum 0-1 Burnley this just topped off a great day to be a Sunderland fan in the Wearside sunshine.