The line-up appeared optimistic: 3-5-2 or 5-3-2, with Patterson still in goal after Burge’s COVID-19 complications, Wright, Cirkin and Winchester holding the defence, Gooch and Clarke on the wing, O’Nien and Matete in the middle and attacking, Evans playing a defence midfield role, then finally Defoe and Stewart up front. Despite his lacklustre second spell at Sunderland, Defoe’s start sparked roars around the Stadium of Light. They were lined-up to attack Crewe, risking non-defensive wingers like Clarke to cover the back.
Much to the confusion of fans who trawled in late from the pubs, Sunderland played in their away kit at home. This was an attempt to raise awareness for the Ukrainian conflict, with their away kit being yellow and blue.
The game kicked off with intense sun sabotaging the game for the left wing and blinding the fans near it. Nonetheless, the wings brought the brightest moments of the first twenty minutes. Clarke and Gooch whipped a few exciting balls in, but lacked the quality to connect with Stewart’s head, despite being six foot odd in the air even without jumping.
Their game was unconvincing at best. The chants of “you’re not fit to referee” began to circle the stadium, more a reflection of their frustration with the game than the referee’s actual mistakes. The same comments can be applied to the Crewe as to almost all games this season — Sunderland hold 80% of the ball, yet do nothing dangerous, settling with long, hopeful balls. This leads to players such as Matete and Defoe chasing the ball out of frustration, pulling the team deeper and adding to the hopelessness. 30,036 fans attended and it is a miracle that most stayed to see the late excitement begin.
It all began with Crewe’s attempt to waste time around the 70th minute, with the ‘keeper holding the ball for too long and gesturing for Stewart to distance from him. For the first time in any game I have ever watched, the referee blew his whistle for an indirect free kick inside the box. It came to nothing, but sparked momentum in the players. Then, in the 84th and 89th minutes, Sunderland managed to squeeze two goals in, from the late substitutes Neil and Roberts.
Fans were left with a disappointing performance, yet a positive result. Regardless, if their performance against the bottom of League One is a true indication, their performances in the Championship would be even worse, leaving fans questioning whether they are destined to stagnate in the lower league for another year.