Wise Men Say: How this bold Jack Ross Sunderland selection call paid off in win over AFC Wimbledon
As Kwesi Appiah wheeled away in celebration after putting AFC Wimbledon level, a sense of confusion rippled across the Stadium of Light.
The former Crystal Palace striker, nor the rest of his team, had laid a glove on Sunderland during the opening 30 minutes. Yet here the 29-year-old brute was, undoing Jack Ross’ side’s best showing of the season so far with a free header at the back post.
Up until that point, Jordan Willis’ recovery pace and Alim Ozturk’s sound defensive positioning had looked impregnable. Although, in the lead up to Wimbledon’s equaliser, signs of concern were beginning to surface.
The warning markers weren’t caused by the opposition. In fact, it’s difficult to think of a prolonged period throughout the 90 minutes where Wally Downes’ men looked anything short of relegation fodder.
But an air of flatness had swept through the home side shortly before being pegged back as the heat began to take its toll.
Until then, it looked as though it was only a matter of time before Sunderland doubled their lead. After Chris Maguire’s deft lob broke the deadlock early on – his first of three for the afternoon – Ross’ men kept hammering at the door.
They looked ruthless, and a side on a mission to put the visitors to the sword; something we haven’t seen enough of at the Stadium of Light over the past 12 months.
But a momentary slip of concentration pulled the near 30,000-strong Black Cats faithful back down to earth. It couldn’t be another case of one step forward two steps back, could it?
As it turned out, it wasn’t. That short spell of fatigue proved to be the only mark on what was an otherwise perfect afternoon for Sunderland.
Since the turn of the year, a persistent gripe on Wearside has been the inability to kill teams off after taking the lead. But no such problems faced the home side this time.
For the second successive Saturday, barring a short switch-off which allowed Wimbledon to grab an undeserved goal, performances across the park were outstanding.
Ross made a bold call; making only one change after a hard-fought win at Rochdale on Tuesday night, which followed the impressive, but energy-sapping victory over Portsmouth just a few days prior.
But the Scot’s trust in his selection paid off. Again, Grant Leadbitter and Max Power ran the show from midfield, enjoying plenty of time on the ball and squandering little.
The defensive line, rarely tested but imperative in Sunderland’s attacking bombardment – particularly Denver Hume, who caused several problems down the left flank.
Charlie Wyke, who had it been for a little more composure would have rounded off a stellar afternoon with a well-deserved goal. And of course, Maguire.
It may not have been the best hat-trick, but it’s one that gave Sunderland their fourth win on the bounce, and one which puts them joint top.
It’s not perfect, but Saturday’s win was a huge step in the right direction.