Phil Smith's verdict: Painful Netflix viewing reminds us how Sunderland have changed the script on home turf

Sunderland started brightly enough.

Sunday, 16th December 2018, 10:50 am
Updated Sunday, 16th December 2018, 10:58 am
Josh Maja helped Sunderland secure their sixth home win of the season

In his post-match remarks, Jack Ross said he was broadly pleased with the way his team went about their business in the opening exchanges.

They made the pitch big and tried to isolate their key players against the Bristol Rovers defenders.

Josh Maja helped Sunderland secure their sixth home win of the season

They tried to force it just too much snatching at the openings they were able to create.

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Then the opponents scored.

Last season, this was a painfully familiar script.

The next act, as Netflix’s new documentary has painfully and forensically reminded us this week, was a flat collapse.

It is easy to forget that on this weekend last year, Sunderland won their first home game for amost a year.

Yesterday, as it was then, Josh Maja’s finishing elevated his side and settled the contest.

That heady December afternoon had all hoping that a new era was underway, but Sunderland would go on to win just one more game at the Stadium of Light before the visit of Wolves on the final day of the campaign.

The players seemed to have no belief and that inevitably seeped into the stands.

In his pre-match programme notes on Saturday, George Honeyman made these revealing remarks: “Last season you could tell that some of the players dreaded playing at home, which was so annoying because you knew that if you got it right, it could be a fortress.

“I’ve been at the club a long time, and when it’s rocking, you can almost beat people in the tunnel before a ball is kicked.

“To have that record so far this season is testament to everyone at the club’s commitment to put things right, and for moving in the right direction.”

That record: 22 points from ten home games.

They have not been beaten and have recovered nine points from losing positions.

Bristol Rovers missed a glorious opportunity to opening the scoring even before Alex Rodman made it 1-0, and a better side would have made more of the counter-attacking opportunities that Sunderland’s occasional lapses on the ball presented.

Their comeback was fair reward for their attacking intent and they created more than enough openings to win the game.

As Jack Ross said, they fought their way through the tricky period that followed Rodman’s goal and in a spell either side of half time, they were excellent and stretched the visitors.

Particularly at home, the trust Ross has in his attacking players is reaping rewards.

Both Aiden McGeady and Lynden Gooch had relatively long periods on the bench last year, and you sense it was the kind of frustrating opening to the game that was behind that.

Both lost the ball in dangerous areas but they persisted and came through, playing a key hand as Sunderland first got back on level terms and then moved ahead.

Sunderland have not been perfect at home, far from it.

They have dropped points in frustrating fashion and it almost was again on Saturday as Steffan Payne hit the bar in the dying moments.

But Jack Ross was right to underline his team’s record after the game.

He was also right to point out that in the wretched conditions and given a number of late injury blows, getting a result was the only thing that mattered/

Sunderland ‘Til I Die has served as a timely reminder of the turnaround on home turf.

The numbers don’t lie. The Staidum of Light is an asset again.