Night to remember as Sunderland grab survival lifeline in spectacular fashion
Just when you were sure they were out, they pull you back in.
Sunderland’s survival chances were hanging by a thread, Barnsley leading against Bristol City.
The Black Cats were in danger of drifting eight points from safety before they even kicked off.
Bristol City’s Josh Brownhill stooped in stoppage time to seal a 2-2 draw and offer Sunderland hope, but even the most optimistic Black Cats supporter would have been pushed to predict what was coming next.
In the driving rain and swirling wind at Derby, their team delivered a performance that was all heart, scrapping their way to a scarcely credible 4-1 win.
Coleman’s team selection had looked like the last roll of the dice, but his side found a balance and resilience that has been so lacking this season.
Aiden McGeady was unplayable, Lynden Gooch tireless.
Defensively, they stood firm and gave themselves a chance most thought was gone.
Of course, in the delight there is frustration.
Where has this been?
The invention of McGeady, the competitiveness from 1-11.
This display, sending the away support into delirium, has been long overdue.
There were signs of nerves in the Derby side, the burden of expectation, right from the start.
Aiden McGeady picked up the ball and played a simple through ball, the home defence caught off guard and badly out of position. Ashley Fletcher was in, but the first touch was poor and the chance gone.
Nevertheless, a powerful, experienced Championship side, Derby were always going to offer a threat.
Bryan Oviedo faced the wrath of his manager moments later when he dawdled on the ball, saved only by an outstanding clearance from Donald Love.
They threatened from a raft of subsequent set-pieces, and so it came as a surprise when it was the visitors who opened the scoring from a dead-ball situation.
A corner dropped to the edge of the area, where George Honeyman rolled the dice and struck towards goal.
Defender Craig Forsyth intercepted but could only head into his own net, with keeper Scott Carson wrong-footed.
If Sunderland were not overly convincing in their play, there was unquestionably a total commitment from the side that forced Derby into a number of poor long balls, as the home support grew increasingly restless.
Paddy McNair was a welcome addition to the Black Cats’ midfield, winning headers and second balls.
The second goal came on 36 minutes. Richard Keogh played a dreadful ball inside from the Rams’ right. Fletcher intercepted, setting off for goal. He beat two defenders before firing a confident finish into the near corner – for his first Black Cats strike.
The hosts were crumbling, and when Fletcher again got to the byline and crossed, Gooch was just inches from converting at the back post.
Ominously, that let-off was soon followed by a Derby goal, Matej Vydra connecting first-time with a tremendous volley into the top corner.
Sunderland responded well, McGeady beating Chris Baird in first-half stoppage time and crossing to the back post. It dropped invitingly for Fletcher, but his connection was poor and the ball drifted wide.
It was a breathless first half that left Sunderland feeling that they could, and should, have had more. An anxious half-time break followed, but with an outpouring of sheer delight in the away end.
Derby boss Gary Rowett introduced Kasey Palmer, but it was Gooch who made the difference with a lung-bursting drive into the box.
He drew the foul from Forsyth and McGeady despatched the resulting penalty with consummate ease.
From there, it was a succession of nervous blocks and last-ditch challenges from the visitors, Palmer making a significant difference and pushing the midfield back.
Sunderland were under pressure, but the individual quality of McGeady meant they always offered a threat on the counter. It almost forced a fourth goal, the Irishman teeing up Fletcher, whose curling effort crashed off the post.
The hosts had barely drawn breath before McNair nodded a corner onto the post.
By now, the game was open beyond the comfort of either side. Vydra inexplicably blazed over from 10 yards after an Oviedo clearance fell right into danger.
In truth, Sunderland has coped with the tension admirably, and a memorable night was capped when John O’Shea pounced on a loose ball in the box and fired home only his fourth ever Sunderland goal to set the seal on a magnificent night for the Black Cats, now just three points adrift of fourth-bottom spot.