Sunderland continued their impressive way form at Shrewsbury and their two-goal victory was the sort every manager loves, even if the purists might not have been too impressed with it.
No club can be in top form for every game of the season, so to grind out three points when not at your best, especially in the first half, shows character and desire, the sort of qualities any team that wants automatic promotion can’t do without.
Saturday’s win wasn’t easy, Shrewsbury had their moments, and at times Sunderland struggled, but after two years of total failure and misery, it is so refreshing to see players who look proud to wear a Sunderland shirt and showing a great attitude.
Before his injury at Coventry, Lynden Gooch had been one of Sunderland’s best players, with his work-rate, goals and assists, so he must have disappointed to be left out of the starting XI.
However, his introduction from the bench turned the game Sunderland’s way.
That’s the advantage Sunderland have over other clubs in this division. When good players get injured or suspended, they don’t return automatically – it’s not easy to get back in because there is real depth to the squad.
And remember, Bryan Oviedo, Charlie Wyke, Max Power and Duncan Watmore were all missing, and arguably all of those players at their best could be starters.
Luke O’Nien scored his first Sunderland goal and George Honeyman also contributed from the bench, so Jack Ross had a good day, making his changes early and decisively, just reinforcing what a bonus it is having good players who can come on and change the course of a game.
I can’t help feeling though, that Sunderland still haven’t found top gear. Bearing that in mind, I’m more than happy with where we are. I’ve got the feeling that when everything does click, some team might get a hiding soon.
When the manager gets all his players back and available, he’ll have difficult decisions to make and it might not be until the slog of the winter months and the second half of the season, when Sunderland really see the benefits of that deep squad.
Finally, Sunderland’s clean sheet on Saturday was long overdue, being the first one since August, and a reward for Jon McLaughlin’s performances lately. But I’m also liking the partnership in front of him, between Tom Flanagan and Jack Baldwin, and they deserve credit for the clean sheet too.