Newcastle United and QPR scouts watch Sunderland as a fine record continues: Behind the scenes at Bristol Rovers
Thousands of Sunderland fans will have watched the game at Bristol Rovers via live streams – but there are those few moments that the cameras don’t capture.
We take a look at some of the moments you might have missed from the League One win – from scouts in the stand to changing things up from set pieces.
THE EXTRA MAN
As has often been the case this season, Sunderland travelled with 19 players to the South West - with an extra man in case of late injury or illness.
In a COVID era - where every cough and splutter is taken seriously - it's a sensible decision to make.
We've also seen Sunderland have players withdraw from warm-ups this season and an extra man on away games means that their place in the squad can be filled if required.
And at Bristol Rovers it was Josh Hawkes who was brought with the first team.
The former Hartlepool United man has impressed behind the scenes this term and has regularly trained with the senior side. He could well be one to watch moving forward.
SCOUTS IN THE STAND
As is the norm at games, there were a number of talent-spotters in the crowd at the Memorial Stadium.
And among them were representatives of Newcastle United, Luton Town and QPR, along with other clubs.
Luton's representative was none other than former Sunderland striker Mick Harford - who has regularly watched his former club over recent years.
The various scouts may well have been at the ground to watch highly-rated Bristol Rovers youngster Pablo Martinez, but who know who else may have caught their eye!
Karl Robinson was also in attendance, with his Oxford side set to play the Black Cats on Good Friday.
STEWART DONALD AND CHARLIE METHVEN WATCH ON
The duo, who remain minority shareholders of the club, watched on from the stands at Bristol Rovers.
They were joined by Kristjaan Speakman and non-executive director David Jones - but there was no sign of Kyril Louis-Dreyfus.
The Sunderland chairman was understood to have returned to Switzerland after the Lincoln game last weekend, meaning the trip to the Memorial Stadium was the first he hasn't attended since purchasing a controlling stake in the Black Cats.
This was always going to be an afternoon where as much entertainment was to be found in the technical areas as on the pitch.
Joey Barton was his usual animated self and was contesting near enough every decision that went against his side.
The former Newcastle United midfielder was particularly irate in the dying minutes when, after a collision with Luke O'Nien, Brandon Hanlan went down in the box.
Bristol Rovers' analysts in the stand were adamant it was a penalty, as was the sizeable contingent of blue and white directors and Barton's coaching staff.
Referee Ollie Yates, however, was less convinced and awarded a free-kick the way of the Black Cats.
Barton continued to press his case as the final minutes of the game were played, but was ultimately left disappointed as his unbeaten run against the Black Cats came to an end.
ONE RECORD ENDED - AND ANOTHER CONTINUED
But while that record ended, another one continued.
Sunderland stretched their unbeaten run in all competitions to 12 games, made it ten outings without defeat in League One and also ensured their place at the top of a certain third tier table.
For if you factor in results only since Lee Johnson's arrival, Sunderland sit top of League One.
No side in the division has gained more points since December 5 than the Black Cats - emphasising how Johnson has very much turned the side into promotion contenders.
AIDEN McGEADY'S RELENTLESS WORK RATE
On a day when there were many solid performances, Aiden McGeady once again caught the eye.
His technical ability came to the fore as ever, with his set-piece allowing Aiden O'Brien to net the decisive goal of the afternoon.
But it was some of his off the ball work that caught the eye at times at Bristol.
The hosts weren’t afraid of playing out from the back if the opportunity arose but were often sloppy in possession – and McGeady was quick to pounce, pressing and putting pressure on defenders before winning back possession.
And in the second half, he was routinely tracking back and helping to break-up counter-attacks as the Gas looked for a route back into the game.
That kind of work rate can often go unnoticed, but is pivotal to winning games.
So for that kind of a shift, McGeady deserves great credit.
A NEW CORNER TAKER
We’ve seen a number of players take corners for Sunderland this term, and while Aiden McGeady regularly takes them on the right flank there has been some variety on the opposite side.
Josh Scowen and Grant Leadbitter have both been among the takers this season, but at the Memorial Stadium it was Max Power who was swinging them in from the left-hand side.
It was, of course, Power’s fine delivery that yielded the second goal at Accrington a few weeks ago and he has impressed with some of his crosses from out wide during the course of recent weeks.
So it is perhaps no surprise that he is now being given the chance to take some of Sunderland’s set-pieces – as they look to make the most of any and all opportunities to find the net in these final weeks of the campaign.