WHEN THE pressure was at its height, when there was no room left to manoeuvre, when supporters’ good will had almost been exhausted, Sunderland delivered.
Fair play to them in the Sunderland dressing room. This needed some bottle.
In THE do-or-die battle of the campaign so far, yesterday’s showdown with Southampton, Sunderland recorded a 2-1 victory which was absolutely imperative, considering results elsewhere for their relegation scrap peers.
Sunderland are not safe yet. Far from it. They may need another four points from the remaining four games as a minimum.
But had Dick Advocaat’s men suffered a third home defeat out of four - or even added another draw to their tally - it would have been curtains for their hopes of extending their eight-year stay in the Premier League.
Let’s face it, QPR and Burnley are down, and now it’s one from five in the battle to avoid that final spot.
With Newcastle in free-fall, Sunderland suddenly have the Magpies in their sights, particularly with a better goal difference to John Carver’s imploding side.
Inevitably, it was nervy, particularly deep into stoppage time when Costel Pantilimon was called into action to keep out Steven Davis’ shot after Sunderland did their best to self-destruct with a succession of feeble attempts to clear their lines.
But Sunderland did it. That’s all that matters.
The commitment and determination which had been evident in the second half at Stoke City seven days earlier was present again, and it was typified by Danny Graham.
Since arriving in a £5million move in January 2013, Graham has rarely been toasted by supporters, yet the crowd rightly chanted his name at the final whistle.
There may be reservations over Graham’s quality, yet his work-rate and hunger for the battle were immense, and it was no coincidence that he had a hand in both of the penalties immaculately despatched by Jordi Gomez.
He was the perfect battering ram at the top of a much more direct approach from Advocaat – perhaps a sensible ploy given the anxiety which can be generated with a possession-based approach at the wrong end of the table.
But in fairness, Sunderland’s determination was evident throughout the side, with the Black Cats clearly wanting it more than a Southampton side in wind-down mode after a stellar campaign, particularly after going down to 10 men.
Sunderland didn’t make it easy for themselves - the slapstick manner of the equaliser, the chances blown on the stroke of half-time, the failure to profit from opportunities on the counter-attack, or the nerves in the final stages.
But Sunderland put three points on the board.
For all the attention which inevitably went on October’s 8-0 rout at St Mary’s, this might turn out to be a far more relevant result for Sunderland this season.