Phil Smith's verdict: The outstanding support and inspired tactics that made this one of Sunderland's best wins of the season

It was an evening that Sunderland needed.

By Phil Smith
Friday, 19 April, 2019, 22:36
Charlie Wyke celebrates his fifth goal in a Sunderland shirt

Not just because their promotion rivals had piled the pressure on.

The tension is always unbearable at this time of year but even more so when you start to feel like things might be going against you.

Adam Davies with an inspirational performance in the Barnsley goal as they took a seemingly fortunate win from their clash with Shrewsbury.

Portsmouth snatching a 92nd-minute winner at Burton Albion, more than a hint of handball and offside about their decisive effort.

It is to the credit of both Sunderland's team and fans that any potential anxiety never affected what was a controlled, dominant performance in a superbly supportive atmosphere.

For themselves as much as the wider promotion race, the Black Cats needed that boost and they head into the final four games of the season with a spring in their step again.

Doncaster looked overawed and in truth they could have been completely out of the game by half time.

That owed to a terrific tempo from the Black Cats but also a gameplan from Jack Ross that was executed well.

The Coventry City defeat, and indeed the defensive issues that had been seen in the 1-1 draw with Burton Albion days previous, had left Ross with some big decisions to make.

The side looked worryingly unbalanced and vulnerable to the counter.

Above all else, the recurring theme of their defenders gifting possession away in dangerous areas was something that needed to be corrected swiftly.

So Ross made arguably the biggest selection call of his Sunderland tenure to date.

Will Grigg dropped to the bench, a decision admittedly made easier by the likely need for fresh legs in just 48 hours time when Sunderland travel to Peterborough United.

Charlie Wyke led the line on his own with the midfield reinforced.

In defence, both centre-backs were changed. Jack Baldwin dropped out of the squad, while Jimmy Dunne and Alim Ozturk came in.

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The pair had never played together before.

Ozturk had not played any senior competitive football since January 22nd. His last two appearances had been in the Checkatrade Trophy, against U21 opposition.

They were faced with one of the best pressing sides in the division and an energetic, high-quality striker at this level in John Marquis.

It is inconceivable that Rovers boss Grant McCann sent his team out with any other instruction than to put that pair under pressure and try and test them with balls in behind. It was not always convincing.

Ozturk got away with a couple of robust challenges and their use of possession was not always precise.

Sunderland, crucially, adapted their gameplan accordingly.

They did not press as high as you might accept and were happy enough for Doncaster to keep the ball providing it was in their own half.

They also took very few risks on the ball, Ozturk and Dunne both clearing their lines with no fuss.

A repeat of the goals that had so frustrated against Coventry was never on the cards.

Of course, the success of that depended on Sunderland holding the ball up and bringing their wingers into play.

Charlie Wyke was the key and his display was nothing short of exceptional.

His awareness to get on the scoresheet was good but his all-round tenacity was most impressive.

He left the field 15 minutes from the end to a deserved standing ovation and it was only subsequently discovered he had been a doubt for the game, battling through a migraine.

He is fast becoming a fan favourite. After a difficult week, the Black Cats have found their footing again.