By Fan of the Year – Jon Harries
A very eventful start to the first day of the season. Destination University of Bolton Stadium was where the League 1 season started with Bolton looking to “trot” on from their promotion, and the Dons looking to end the previous week on a high after the departure of the coaching staff to Snake City.
It was a bright start by both sides looking to stamp their authority on the game. 20 minutes in and Mo made his mark at the first time of asking (Pictured Above). A mistake in the Bolton defence allowed O’Riley to slip Eisa in who fired in at the near post past the flat footed Gilks in the Bolton goal. Bolton equalised from a fantastic Josh Sheehan free kick ten minutes later with Walker helpless to keep it out, and you must question the needless number of free kicks we are giving away just outside the box, we cannot afford to give teams golden opportunities so frequently, especially in areas where we are highly vulnerable.
There was a possible red card for Declan John before the break with a high tackle that got only a yellow card from a very lenient ref and judging by the reaction from the players there was much more in this than just a badly timed tackle, it appeared to be reckless at best.
The second half ebbed and flowed with the first blow being struck by the home side. Miscommunication between Darling and Watson allowed Bolton in on the left, the ball went all the way across the box and Bakayoko took a touch and smashed it low into the net.
The Dons equaliser was exquisite by Twine, a free kick that had similarities to Sheehan earlier, this time the well-built Gilks never even moved and just pointed at it as it sailed past him and found the bottom corner, I have to say It’s nice to have a dead ball specialist in the side that can hit the target, we certainly needed someone.
Then the surprise inclusion in the squad Number 18 Hiram Boateng came out of the wilderness and thought he’d won it after spinning and firing into the back of the net. The away end went crazy at the prospect of a first day success only for Alex Baptiste to fire into an empty net with 10 seconds to go.
Full-time and although heartbroken, the pride in the attacking performance and never say die attitude stood out for all to see. Dean Lewington in the circumstances did a fantastic job of motivating the players and should quite rightly be commended for that.
Sunderland travel to Milton Keynes on Saturday on the back of a hard-fought win against promotion rivals Wigan Athletic. Gwion Edwards gave Wigan the lead early on, only for main man Aiden McGeady to equalise before half time. Sunderland turned it around in the second half with January recruit Ross Stewart firing in the winner. Over 30,000 fans attended at the Stadium of Light with the majority happy with the result and the start of the season.
Their recruitment over the summer has been steady, slowly replacing the likes of Charlie Wyke (Wigan) Chris Maguire (Lincoln) with younger fresher bodies. Goalkeeper was maybe an issue although Lee Burge did make the EFL League 1 team of the season last year. The great loss of Dion Sanderson to the Black Cats has been replaced by 17-year-old Callum Doyle on loan from Manchester City and is certainly a fan favourite already. The RB position needs looking at with midfielder Carl Winchester operating out of position to accommodate “Mr Versatile” Luke O’Nien in midfield. Aiden McGeady and Alex Pritchard provide the width and creativity for Aiden O’Brien and Stewart to attack. They need more bodies upfront or to finally trust in Will Grigg (not on Saturday please), but you have to say his relationship with the fans is very fragile.
Elliott Embleton is finally getting his chance to shine in Wearside. Sent on loan to Blackpool last season the fans were quite rightly disappointed that he didn’t remain at the SOL. The academy graduate is hopefully able to take his chance this year with his passing, direct running, and ability to score great goals. A fine example would be in the second leg of the play offs v Oxford at Bloomfield Road, he drove at the defence, cut inside after Luke Garbutt made a run off the ball for him and curled a shot in via the far post. New signing Ethan Robson should know his strengths given they came through the Sunderland Academy at the same time. It could define the result of the game.
Former Academy team mates Robson & Embleton are the key to the game.
Watson – O’Hora – Darling – Jules – Harvie
Robson – Twine – O’Riley
Eisa – Parrott
I would hope Fisher is fit enough to return, even if he must stand on one leg, and give the defence confidence. It was confirmed post Bolton that David Kasumu will be out for 6 to 8 weeks and with McEachran still finding fitness Ethan Robson looks like he’ll get a good run in the team. I enjoyed the strike partnership and the hard work between Parrott and Eisa. Having collected 4 points off Sunderland last season I am going for a 1-0 win. Eisa with the goal.
As good as Sunderland look, their defence could be exposed.
Don’t forget to #backtheboys.