Juan Sartori catches the Sunderland bug as faces old and new revel in a famous win
Jack Ross was as measured as ever.
Though he celebrated Lynden Gooch’s winning header wildly with his backroom staff (and really, why wouldn’t you?), he was keen to note that this would not define Sunderland’s season.
He was also keen to stress that there was much to work on for his young and developing side.
In the first half they were outplayed and outfought.
The superb Lyle Taylor, who Ross had been keen to sign this summer, showed in a delightful display that there are players at this level with talent and intelligence to match the physicality.
This was a hard, hard win to achieve and it underlined that this season will not be easy.
Ross will return to the training pitch on Monday with much to get across.
Sunderland’s performance, though, is only part of the story.
For old faces and new, this felt like the day when the Sunderland bug took hold again.
31,709 supporters came to watch their team and they left in delirium.
The moment Gooch bolted for the corner in celebration was one of the most cathartic moments in the short history of this grand arena.
No matter that this was the third tier, no matter that this was only one hurdle cleared in what will be a long journey.
This was, for those that have suffered so much in recent times, a moment to celebrate that precious feeling of unity and connection once again.
For the new, it was an exhilarating glimpse of what could be on the horizon.
Ross described the noise as ‘incredible’.
James Fowler his assistant, took to twitter to revel in the support, posting a video of the ground singing ‘by far the greatest team’ shortly before the final whistle.
Sign up to our daily newsletter
Goalkeeping coach Jimmy Walker summed it up on his own twitter page: “Wow.. wot a start to the season @SunderlandAFC don’t get better than a last min winner at home.. The noise was unreal wen it went in.”
The players, too, five of whom were debutants, were left in awe of the experience.
Gooch is no stranger to the passion of the region and as such, he already feels like something of a leader in this squad.
“Everyone, even the staff, are saying, ‘Jesus!’ People just tracking back, just putting one tackle in and you can hear the roar around the place, it’s unbelievable,” Gooch said.
“We need to just keep going. I think that was big for the new lads to see that after the last-minute winner – to see what this place is all about.”
Perhaps even more significantly, Sunderland’s newest director was catching the bug high up in the executive seats.
Juan Sartori was a bundle of energy all day.
There were hugs, handshakes and greetings for fans, stewards, staff and players pre-match.
The Uruguayan even had time for a kickabout in the fanzone with young supporters.
During it, he had his first taste of the often agonizing experience that is following this team.
After Josh Maja’s equaliser, he looked on in awe as the South Stand found it’s full voice, that ‘by far the greatest team’ booming out once again.
At one stage, it looked like he would join in, but perhaps some practice is needed in the coming weeks.
In the dying embers of the game he paced up and down the concourse, willing the referee to blow the final whistle.
There were more hugs and high fives in the tunnel as he headed to the pitch, eager to take in one last look of his new surroundings.
For him, the new staff, the new players, there is much to do and no doubt some bumps in the road to navigate.
But they can see now what could await them.
They’ve caught the Sunderland bug.
In doing so, they might well bring the magic back for those who first caught it many years ago.