It looks too late to save them from drop but Coleman’s Sunderland hint at better future

Lynden Gooch tries to get away from Leeds' Pablo Hernandez. Picture by Frank Reid
Lynden Gooch tries to get away from Leeds' Pablo Hernandez. Picture by Frank Reid
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At the final whistle, the Sunderland fans sang as loud as any away support you’ll hear.

Boss Chris Coleman stopped for a prolonged period to applaud them before making his way down the tunnel.

To a man, the players were cheered off at the end of a pulsating contest.

This was an afternoon in which the Red and White army were able to enjoy the simple pleasures of football fandom, with pride and unity reflected at long last in their team who, while far from perfect, left everything out on the Elland Road turf.

It is now four points from the last three games, form that would easily kept them in this division over a longer period.

In those games they have created chances, shown a better balance in the team from box-to-box and, most importantly, competed tenaciously.

After a long search for a system that suits his players, Coleman has settled on a 4-3-3 formation and, able to build some continuity in selection, he now has a team that has a better balance and organisation.

His midfielders are able to break into the box, his wingers are getting into promising one-on-one situations and his centre-forward is improving as a result of vastly improved service.

Their goal was a reflection of that improvement, Donald Love with an audacious chipped pass that Paddy McNair met with a thunderous half-volley.

Keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell, tremendous all afternoon, had no chance.

Sunderland could have had more. Ashley Fletcher hit the bar with a good first-half header and drew a sensational save from Peacock-Farrell in the second.

The Leeds keeper also made superb saves from George Honeyman and Callum McManaman, the latter going close just moments after writhing in agony from a Gaetano Berardi challenge that rightly saw saw the Leeds captain sent off minutes from the end.

Leeds had plenty of chances of their own, of course.

Pablo Hernandez scored a fine goal to level at 1-1 and Lee Camp has to be at his best to prevent him adding another, also saving well from Samuel Saiz, who struck the bar with a magnificent free-kick late on.

A point was a fair result even if Sunderland could easily have turned it into a win.

Of course, when the dust settled, the Black Cats were left pretty much where they were before kick-off, only with one game less to pull off the seemingly impossible.

Their recent improvements frustrate as much as they encourage.

Why has it taken so long for the likes of Aiden McGeady and Lamine Kone to produce a string of consistent performances?

If Coleman had found this balance to his side three months ago, where would Sunderland be in the table?

They remain set for a devastating second successive relegation, and question marks over a financially difficult future persist as takeover rumours rumble on.

Perhaps, though, that makes it all the more important that, for 90 minutes at least, supporters who continue to invest financially and emotionally in their team can enjoy what they see.

In Lynden Gooch and McNair, there was the embodiment of what Coleman wants to build in the next two years.

They were exciting, athletic, persistent, resilient and played with genuine quality.

Amid the gloom and anxiety, they hinted at a more promising future.

For the 2,000 who travelled to watch, that was something to relish at least.