Phil Smith's verdict: Referee's howler shouldn't overshadow a very special day for Sunderland

Jack Ross was eager not to dwell on that moment and you could see his point.

Wednesday, 26th December 2018, 5:26 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th January 2019, 8:55 pm
Sunderland sealed a vital win in front of a massive crowd

It is unavoidable to a large extent.

It was such an obvious error and Bradford City had every right to be aggrieved.

Jon McLaughlin clearly carried Jack Payne’s late effort over the line and there was genuine shock around the ground when Darren England and his officials allowed play to continue.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Had it gone in, a vital victory would unquestionably have been in jeopardy.

It was a crucial moment in the story of the day.

As Ross was eager to point out, however, there were many other chapters and all of them are worth dwelling on.

Only Liverpool and Manchester United got more supporters through the gate than Sunderland on the busy Boxing Day schedule.

It was a third tier record post-Taylor report and by a comfortable distance at that.

That expectation lent itself to a nervy afternoon on occasions but when 46,039 supporters roared their team onto the pitch, it was a moment that few will forget in a hurry.

The noise that greeted Aiden McGeady’s composed finish and the roar that greeted the final whistle; they were moments that will be recalled as vividly as that refereeing howler.

That spirit of revival was never summed up better than the hush that greeted Martin Longstaff’s wonderful half-time rendition of ‘Shipyards’.

Decked out in red-and-white, Longstaff caught everyone’s attention with a gorgeous performance.

That Netflix documentary Longstaff sound tracked has actually proved to be a cathartic experience for many and the scenes at this Boxing Day clash showed how far the club has come in such a short space of time.

The club has put itself back at the heart of the city, in tune with its fanbase and its standing.

Three points, however hard they were to earn, only underlined that remarkable turnaround.

Ross’s side were very good for the most part.

In the first half they played the game, rather than the occasion.

Bradford were organised well and were keen for Sunderland to try and force it.

Set up in a narrow diamond, they were eager to hoover up loose passes into midfield and then break in numbers.

Rather than get sucked into the adrenaline of the occasion, the Black Cats were patient and tried to keep the ball out of those dangerous areas.

There were still when they tried to force it too much, too eager to go for the game-breaking pass, but when their patience was rewarded through McGeady’s goal it was hard to say that they didn’t deserve it.

They were far from perfect in the second half, but even then there were some major positives.

Josh Maja led the line throughout with tenacity and no little technical quality.

After a rough period he looked back to his best and was unlucky not to score. After being taken off Ross pulled him aside for a chat and they looked very much like words of praise.

The replacements showed equal promise.

There were few roars louder than when Duncan Watmore, his side under pressure, flew down the left flank in the latter stages.

He rode countless challenges before eventually being hauled down near the byline.

Not long after, he did it again.

That cameo was superb and it was equalled by that of Charlie Wyke.

Wyke looked off the pace in his early appearances for Sunderland but here he won everything, players bouncing off him as be brough team-mates into play.

He is going to have a big part to play in the second half of the season.

Sunderland needed a big slice of luck to get over the line today.

But that shouldn’t mask the signs that showed they are in fine health, on and off the pitch.