Analysis: Bournemouth win sets benchmark for David Moyes' Sunderland side
The relief was etched across the faces of the Sunderland players, fans and coaching staff alike the moment Mike Dean put his whistle to his lips.
Sunderland’s long, painful wait for a Premier League win was over. The Black Cats had beaten Bournemouth to put an end to a 10-game winless streak.
The shattered players high-fived and hugged each other and the backroom staff as they made their way off the pitch on a cold November afternoon.
Fireworks could be heard going off in the background, although that had more to do with Bonfire Night celebrations than David Moyes’ first league win as Sunderland manager.
The 1,200 hardy souls who had set off from Wearside at 5am on Saturday morning were rejoicing in the stands, the 350-mile trip back North a breeze after that win.
The Premier League table still makes for pretty grim reading, with just five points from 11 games, but it is a heck of a lot healthier than it was going into the game.
Sunderland dug in against all odds to come away with a win; they went a goal down, had their manager in the stands serving a one-game touchline ban, and then had a man sent off.
At that stage, the game was evenly poised at 1-1.
Most fans would have happily taken a point.
But Sunderland dug in, rode their luck – which was considerable at times – and came away with a precious victory.
Victor Anichebe up front and Jordan Pickford in goal, were the inspiration. This was a team effort, but those two stood out. Their contributions were mammoth.
Pickford produced save after save to keep Bournemouth out – his stop in the 25th minute to deny Joshua King from making it 2-0 crucial.
Had that gone in, Sunderland would have been looking at 11 games without a win. Pickford’s second-half performance was even better; his flying save to deny King world-class.
The only time he was beaten, Junior Stanislas saw his effort rebound off the post. Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth side were relentless after Steven Pienaar was given his marching orders.
It was wave after wave of attack, with Sunderland having to contend with 22 shots, goalmouth scrambles, 12 corners and, unsurprisingly, Bournemouth dominating with 70 per cent possession.
Sunderland’s goal was living a charmed life, but you make your own luck in this life. And the only stat that matters is the final result.
Sunderland worked hard as a unit to protect their lead, going down to ten men seemed to inspire them.
As the afternoon wore on, you got the distinct impression this was to be Sunderland’s day.
Anichebe, meanwhile, was excellent on his full league debut for the club, providing Jermain Defoe with much-needed assistance. He was no longer isolated.
Instead, he had a battering ram next to him, the Bournemouth defence couldn’t get the ball off him at times.
Strong, powerful, aggressive, while also displaying a neat touch and a fine finish.
Artur Boruc is still wondering how Anichebe managed to squeeze the ball in from the tight angle to equalise. The Sunderland fans sang his name throughout.
He had the broadest smile as he left the pitch, despite nursing a cracked rib. That showed the level of commitment, playing through the pain barrier.
Despite the dismal start to the season, one thing you cannot accuse this Sunderland team of is a lack of effort or commitment.
They have lacked quality, certainly, but not effort.
Moyes had worked his players hard in training, with double sessions, and the manager deserves credit for his approach.
Starting with two strikers in a 4-4-2 formation was bold and it paid off handsomely. Anichebe drifted wide left as the game wore on to give Sunderland – without John O’Shea and Jack Rodwell due to hamstring injuries – a better shape.
It was no surprise to see Wahbi Khazri dropped after his poor showing against Arsenal, while Paddy McNair and Papy Djilobodji enjoyed their best games in a Sunderland shirt.
Lamine Kone still looks out of sorts, while Sunderland’s defending was again questionable at times, but there were far more positives than negatives.
It was a nerve-shredding afternoon for the Sunderland support after their side had gifted Bournemouth the lead.
Just 11 minutes were on the clock when Charlie Daniels played the ball out to the right wing, Adam Smith had the run on Patrick van Aanholt before crossing for Dan Gosling to score.
It was far too easy and Sunderland were losing the midfield battle in the early stages.
Bournemouth were dominating, but Sunderland dug in and equalised, the impressive Anichebe with the strike – his first top-flight goal since May 2015.
The tireless Duncan Watmore had the ball in the net later, but he was rightly ruled offside as Sunderland finished the stronger of the two sides.
They started the second half stronger too and were in the ascendancy until Pienaar’s second yellow card.
From then on in, it was about determination and resilience. Sunderland were camped in their own half. Stanislas hit the post, Jack Wilshere prodded wide and sub Benik Afobe misfired.
Then, again out of nowhere, Anichebe powered his way into the penalty area and went down under a touch from Adam Smith.
Defoe stepped up to coolly convert the resulting penalty to spark jubilant scenes in the away section.
Jason Denayer was excellent after coming on to sit in front of the back four as Sunderland held on.
It was an exhilarating game and Moyes was rightly proud of his side’s efforts, but he knows there is an awful lot of hard work ahead.
One swallow doesn’t make a summer.
Just like one Premier League win doesn’t mean everything is all of a sudden rosy in Sunderland’s garden.
But those three points have given everyone on Wearside a massive lift, not least the players.
The confidence should come rushing back ahead of the Hull City match on Saturday week.
They need to make the most of it, especially in front of the long-suffering home support, and make it back-to-back wins for the first time since May.
Nobody is kidding themselves that Sunderland don’t still have a huge battle on their hands to maintain their top-flight status.
But they have at least shown they are capable.
This win sets the benchmark for Moyes’ side.
Fans live in hope but for now, at least, Sunderland finally have lift-off.