Reds in full harmony as discord spreads through Sunderland
SIMON GRAYSON had a ticket to see Kasabian on Saturday evening – although he would have been better off watching Dire Straits, in truth.
Earlier, all the melodic tunes had arrived from a Barnsley side who provided a welcome rewind to their medley of delectable moments from the first half of last season. It was like listening to one of your favourite soundtracks.
Almost 12 months to the day, the Reds had ravaged a visiting Rotherham United side, whose sizeable contingent made their feelings known in no uncertain terms at the final whistle – just as Sunderland’s travelling army did on Saturday tea-time.
The ones that were still there among the 4,249 away support, at any rate. The fact that the Wearside visitors jeered their own side’s efforts and filled the air with chants of ‘ You’re not fit to wear the shirt’ before sportingly clapping the hosts off the pitch told you everything about the merit on show from Barnsley.
Summer may have been decidedly chilly for Reds fans, but its last few rays will have felt warm.
On the last occasion that the Black Cats visited Oakwell, all the talk was of the ‘Sunderland Three’ in reference to the fact that players Anthony Stokes, Marton Fulop and Tobias Hysen missed the team bus to South Yorkshire and were disciplined.
After their latest appointment, it was all about another three. A punishing three-goal defeat, with Barnsley being full value for their vibrant victory, which even heralded a few oles and chants of: ‘It’s just like watching Brazil’ in the second half.
At the heart of it all was winger Adam Hammill, who had a ball on a fun afternoon when many of his cohorts in red were not far too behind.
On an afternoon of enlightenment, positives stacked up like Bank Holiday traffic. Back-toback wins at home for the first time since December and a first Oakwell clean sheet since February 4 being two obvious ones.
But perhaps the main one was the fact that Paul Heckingbottom made some bold, important calls which were spectacularly rewarded when they could have easily backfired.
The Reds chief handed a first home league start to Ike Ugbo in place of Tom Bradshaw, while Harvey Barnes was brought in for his full debut ahead of Ryan Hedges – and both moves were vindicated in emphatic fashion.
Chelsea loanee Ugbo allied pace and a predatory threat with a prodigious work-rate, while Barnes provided glimpses of quality which showed just why he is so highly regarded by parent club Leicester City.
Barnes’s wonderfully-struck volley to make it 2-0 will live long in the memory, while George Moncur’s strike to seal the points midway through the second half carried the imprint of class.
It was Ugbo’s close-range effort that got the Reds going just after the half-hour and the hosts sim- ply did not look back from that juncture.
On his first goal for the Reds to crown a mature display, the teenager, 19 next month, said: “It was great to get a win against a big team like Sunderland.
“Obviously, I am proud to get my first goal and also proud to get three points.
“Now that I have got my first one, it will now give me confidence going into the next games. It is good to get the first goal out of the way.
“I am still adapting and it is a big jump coming from (under) 23s football. It is more intense and you don’t get much time.
“But I think I am developing well as a player and Paul (Heckingbottom) is helping me as well, in training, to find my feet and form.
“I found out on Friday that I was going to start. He said: ‘Just take the opportunity, there’s no pressure – just enjoy it’.”
The backdrop to Saturday was of two clubs with ownership issues seeking to pilot a steady path through the Championship.
On the early evidence, it was Sunderland, under an experienced second-tier operator in Grayson, who looked the more assured. But it proved illusionary.
After Brad Potts wasted a good headed opportunity and Moncur’s drive drew a decent save from Robbin Ruiter, the Reds struck, with Hammill to the fore.
He drove deep into Sunderland territory and slotted in Barnes on the left and his centre was turned in at the far post by Ugbo.
Hammill then supplied a teasing cross which was dispatched in stunning fashion by Barnes, who showed outstanding technique to fire home a super hooked volley.
A brief scare at the other end saw James Vaughan go down under pressure from debutant Liam Lindsay as he bore down on goal, but Chris Kavanagh brandished a yellow card and not a red, with the visitors then wasting a freekick right on the edge of the area.
It was that sort of day for Sunderland with the game over as a contest, with Barnsley seeing out the second half well with an adult display which drew rightful acclaim from Heckingbottom.
There was still time for the Reds to crown a splendid afternoon when Moncur curled home a cracker after enterprising work from Ugbo. Roll on the autumn.
UPLIFTING WIN: Barnsley’s Brad Potts takes aim in the 3-0 Championship victory against Sunderland at Oakwell. Inset, teenager and Chelsea loanee Ike Ugbo nets his first goal for the Reds to crown a mature display for Paul Heckingbottom’s side.