Inside Sunderland's overdue away win as fans show why this club will always be special
It has been too long since we have seen scenes like these.
Sunderland’s players came over to greet the travelling fans and the reception was nothing short of thunderous.
It had been that way all game.
Max Power led his team out to an almost deafening roar and even with the club at its lowest ebb, with so much understandable and rightful concern about where it is headed, on and off the pitch, the opening moments were soundtracked to the familiar cries of ‘Sunderland ‘Til I Die’ and ‘Red & White Army’.
This, we know, is always the way.
No matter what, Sunderland’s support turns up, prepared to drive on the XI in front of them.
Their mood was helped no end by a moment of individual brilliance from Lynden Gooch, pouncing on a moment of indecision in the home defence to drive at goal and unfurl a stunning left-footed shot into the far corner.
From minute one to the last, they were the better side and at long last, those travelling in their numbers saw something to celebrate.
The noise reached a crescendo in the closing minutes, Sunderland rarely troubled, playing out most of the final stages deep in the Doncaster half.
It felt like a home game as the 4,000 roared in appreciation at every free-kick and every throw-in won.
The strains of Sunderland ‘Til I Die could be heard long after the final whistle, long after the players had left the field, a performance of industry and quality fully lauded.
In this wildly inconsistent and unpredictable league, it was not an afternoon that will change the view that significant change is needed at Sunderland.
The malaise has been too significant and gone on for too long, the lack of identity in recruitment and performance too obvious.
The lack of enterpise too frequent, and the inconsistency in individuals too frustrating.
In Doncaster, Phil Parkinson’s side had found themselves facing surprisingly pliant opponents.
They were determined throughout to play out from defence, and it did yield their equaliser, a swift counter that sliced open the Black Cats.
For the vast majority of the game, however, their defenders gathered the ball and found themselves with few options to hit.
Ben Whiteman, one of the outstanding midfielders in the division, played a fine pass in the build-up to that goal but it was notable because those openings and that time on the ball was generally so infrequent for him.
For the most part, their attempts to play ended in a panicked ball over the midfield.
Many of them went straight out of play on the flanks, and many were simply hoovered up by Sunderand’s back three, refreshingly and reassuringly imposing.
Niall Ennis, the 20-year-old loanee from Wolves, was starved of service and after the game, suggested that he needs more help from referees in his battle with the defence.
There was, to his credit, also an honest admission that this side of the game is one he must develop.
Sunderland marshaled him well, and with Doncaster unable to find any composure on the ball, they made little attacking impression on the game.
The second half was far more open, and they did find more space in which to play, but the Black Cats were more than worthy of their win.
Their pressing game was effective and most refreshingly, their wing-backs operated as wingers for the most part.
Luke O’Nien and Denver Hume burst forward whenever possible, in and out of possession, and the latter formed a particularly enterprising partnership down the left with Lynden Gooch.
To watch the quality and tenacity from two academy graduates who understand as well as anyone the level of hurt and frustration in recent times was a tonic.
The Black Cats have set the standard now, and the trip to Fleetwood on New Year’s Day is likely to provide an altogether sterner test.
The anger that led to Friday night’s extraordinary social media campaign, urging Stewart Donald to sell and Phil Parkinson to be replaced, has not dissipated and it will not dissipate.
It will take significant change and a long run of performances like this to win back trust.
That still feels like a long, long way off.
For too long, there have been too many promises, too lofty in their delivery, and nothing even close to being enough in the way of delivery.
If Sunderland have lifted themselves briefly from the lowest position in their history, then it does not change the level of disappointment this wretched campaign has so far brought about.
But perhaps this was just ninety minutes of brief respite that we all needed.
A reminder of what Sunderland is and what it can be, even when for the most part, it has been so clear of late what it is not and what it has been lacking from those in charge.
A reminder that it will always have this.
An incredible community, and an extraordinary passion, just waiting to be harnessed.