Sunderland went into their first leg play-off game in desperate form with just one win in seven and two consecutive defeats, but they battled, scrapped and fought for everything to deservedly take a lead into the second leg.
Saturday’s game against Portsmouth wasn’t a classic but who cares, and anybody who gets too precious about not seeing a scintillating game doesn’t understand the magnitude of what’s at stake for the future of Sunderland.
Saying that, the game was lit up by Chris Maguire’s winning goal, the King showing great technical ability. Even Sunderland’s real king Charlie Hurley would I’m sure have acknowledged there was something a bit special about Maguire’s finish.
Sunderland got the better of Portsmouth for the first time this season and they did it with old fashioned virtues like attitude, work ethic and team spirit and I think over the 90 minutes they wanted it more than Portsmouth.
However the referee did his best to make things harder for our lads and I thought the red card for Ozturk was harsh. That could have signalled a collective drop of heads so it was heartening to see how determined 10-man Sunderland were to hang onto that one goal advantage, but it ruined any chance of increasing that lead.
The first half was a complete stalemate, it looked like two teams sick of the sight of each other, who knew each other inside out, with the result that neither goalkeeper had a save to make.
The second half was better, as Sunderland stepped up a gear, and before Maguire scored Honeyman was somehow denied by the goalkeeper’s face.
Portsmouth themselves struck the woodwork immediately after Ozturk’s dismissal, as did Maguire with another of his long-range efforts, he is certainly not shy in having a shot.
Sunderland signed off this long demanding campaign at home with a win, and hopefully the next time the team appears on Wearside in a league game, it won’t be in the backwaters of League One but the Championship, which is still a tier below the league we should be operating in, but a big step back to getting there.