Martin O’Neill arrived at the Stadium of Light to a rapturous reception prior to kick off, and left dugout to an even louder roar come full time.
Having gone behind to an early Blackburn Rovers goal, the first 70 minutes of the game were identical to Sunderland’s home games all season.
A lot of possession, plenty of chances, yet all missed along with some sloppy defending on our own behalf to fall behind before break. The second half saw Sunderland control the game with almost no Blackburn threat what so ever.
With attack after attack launched in and around the Rovers area, Blackburn keeper Paul Robinson was looking unbeatable producing a string of fine saves with defender Chris Samba superb throughout heading clear every Sunderland cross.
The introduction of Irish youngster James Mclean by O’Neill late on in the game injected an added energy into the left wing which lifted the crowd. Soon after the ball fell to David Vaughan 25 yards out to smash Sunderland level with a superbly executed pile driver.
The noise inside the ground was terrific and the players responded in a way not seen so far this campaign. Spirit, fight and determination to win the match swept through the team and we looked like going on to win it with only a few minutes remaining.
A handball on the edge of the Blackburn area resulted in a 92nd minute free kick opportunity. Sebastian Larsson picked up the ball looking to make up for last week’s penalty miss at Wolves.
He duly obliged looping the ball over the wall clipping the inside of the post on its way in. The Swede’s match winning free kick sent the Stadium of light into wild celebrations with virtually the last kick of the game.
O’Neill began his first game in charge by making three changes to the team who lost at Wolves in the previous game. David Vaughan, Titus Bramble and Connor Wickham were all brought into the starting line as the former Aston Villa manager begins experimenting as he looks to find his favoured starting 11.
Sunderland made a slow start to the game allowing Steve Kean’s men to pass the ball well.
Striker Yakubu Ayegbeni claimed for a penalty after he dribbled into the Sunderland box and went down under a challenge from Bramble but no penalty was awarded, replays showed it was the correct decision.
A Blackburn free kick then landed at the feet of Samba.
His tricky footwork beat Phil Bardsley to drill a shot into goalkeeper Keiron Westwood who could only parry the ball into the path of Simon Vukcevic to head into an empty net putting Blackburn in front with 17minutes played.
The goal did little to stop a crowd of 39,863 getting behind the team. Roars of encouragement drowned out the celebrations of the 316 Blackburn fans that made the trip from Lancashire.
Sunderland should have equalised when Keiron Richardson missed a great chance from close range.
Stephane Sessegnon’s cross looked weak and certain to be cleared by Jason Lowe who somehow let the ball go through his legs leaving Richardson one on one with Robinson who smothered the resulting low shot brilliantly.
O’Neill looked on from the dugout stunned at how the chance hadn’t been converted.
Richardson then came close to scoring once more soon after. He was found by Larsson’s cross from the right but saw his shot successfully deflected by Lowe’s head.
For all of Sunderland’s pressure pushing the for equaliser, it could have be worse going into half time as Blackburn had a goal ruled out for a Yakubu obstruction on Westwood as he rose to catch a Blackburn ball into the box.
The decision looked like it could have gone either way- a bit of a let off for what could have lead to a mountain to climb in the second half.
Blackburn were forced into making changes in the first half. Martin Olsson who had replaced Gael Givet after 22minutes did not appear for the second half with Adam Henley taking his place.
Grant Hanley then replaced Michel Salgado just six minutes into the second half leaving Steve Kean’s sub options finished for the remaining 40 minutes.
Richardson continued his threat by driving in a corner which hit the post on 54minutes but with a lack of striking prowess on the pitch, there was nobody on sight to claim the loose ball.
The ex Manchester United youngster was on a one man mission to get his goal forcing Robinson yet again in another great save. This time the former England keeper tipped Richardson’s volley over the bar after it took what looked to be a goal bound deflection off Morten Gamst Pederson.
Sessegnon was next to have a go, but his acrobatic overhead kick also went over the bar.
Sunderland’s pressure was looking certain to pay off, yet at the same time the anxiety remained inside the stadium of just how a goal could actually come.
22 year old Irishman Mclean made his first team debut replacing Jack Colback with 14minutes remaining. He made an immediate impact fizzing in a mouth-watering cross and took on defenders raising the noise levels of the crowd.
Ji Dong Won replaced Wickham who looked short of fitness throughout.
With just six minutes of the 90 remaining, Bardsley crossed into the Blackburn box. Henley headed the ball out of Blackburn’s box only to see the clearance fall straight into the path of the oncoming Vaughan who smashed Sunderland level from with a fierce but composed drive for his first goal in red and white. The stadium erupted.
With Blackburn on the back foot and looking to salvage a point to assist their own relegation battle, they gave away a 92nd minute free kick on the edge of their box for handball.
Sebastian Larsson stepped up placing the place down from what looked to be a difficult angle. His superb effort sailed over the Rovers wall and clipped the post on its way in leaving the scrambling Robinson with no chance.
The comeback was complete and O’Neill jumped for joy in a typical crazy celebration.
A great confidance boosting win for Sunderland and what better way for Martin O’Neill to start his career on Wearside than with a home win coming from behind.
No doubt there’s a long way to go, but there was a special feel inside the stadium at full time. It will hopefully be a day for fans to look back on and think: ‘that was the day it all begun’.
Keep the faith.