It’s been a long 48 days.

Not since February 10 have Sunderland been able to walk away from a stadium with the taste of victory satisfying their palate, where things were much different. In the dugout, Michael Beale was in charge. On the field, Jack Clarke remained omnipresent.

It was a similar scenario 94 days ago, the last time Sunderland were able to walk away from an away stadium with that taste of victory – a 1-0 win over Hull City on Boxing Day with Beale in charge and Clarke taking the plaudits. Yet things were much different 177 days ago when Sunderland last strung back-to-back clean sheets together by following a 3-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday up with a 2-0 success over Watford under Tony Mowbray. At the Cardiff City Stadium on Good Friday, things came full circle under Mike Dodds.


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This may not be the resurrection story befitting the Easter weekend, timely as it may be, but it was a significant afternoon for Sunderland both in the here and now and with a nod towards the future. Sunderland’s 2-0 win over Cardiff City should lay to rest any overt concerns the club could yet be dragged into an unlikely relegation battle, with the gap to the bottom three now a more settling 12 points, with just seven games to play – the reality now being Sunderland are destined for the fabled mid-table mediocrity.

That is a title they will be able to dissect over the summer, but the immediate aftermath in South Wales produced an overriding sense of relief. Relief that Sunderland finally brought an end to their winless run. Relief that Sunderland won away from home for only a fifth time this season. Relief there were signs of what you could call ‘the old Sunderland’ – at least as far as their style of play since returning to the Championship in 2022 is concerned.

Dodds remained steadfast post-match, as he has done throughout this interim spell in charge, the embodiment of the old cliché of not being too high in the highs or too low in the lows. And yet there’s no telling how important a win this was for him, as well. Dodds continues to harbour aspirations of taking on a head coach role permanently in the future where a sizable run of games without a win would do little to appeal to any potential suitors both internally or externally.

To his credit, however, Dodds has not veered from what he believes is right for Sunderland and this squad, despite what has been a gruelling run of form – something he praised his players for following Friday’s win.

We Are Sunderland: Sunderland supporters were able to celebrate an away win for the first time since Boxing DaySunderland supporters were able to celebrate an away win for the first time since Boxing Day (Image: Ian Horrocks)

“It’s not been an easy period for myself or anyone because of the results,” Dodds told We Are Sunderland. “But what they have given me is they’ve completely bought into the processes and every single day they’ve turned up and bought into what we’re trying to do, and I thank them for that and have reiterated how important that is going forward.

“I’m trying to be level with it all because in this position you can’t get too high with the highs and you can’t get too low with the lows. Fortunately today, things went our way.

“I’m more happy for the group because we’ve got a really good group and I’m more happy for the fans because I think a result makes everything feel a little bit lighter.”


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Sunderland didn’t have to wait until the final whistle for that freedom and weight-shifting moment, though. That came the second Adil Aouchiche fizzed his penalty straight down the barrel and into the back of Ethan Horvath’s net inside the opening quarter-of-an-hour. Suddenly, the worlds aligned for Sunderland once more and the shackles came off.

Since Tony Mowbray’s exit in December, Sunderland’s chance creation has been a highly disputed concept, whether that be xG or just plain old-fashioned shots at goal. Here, they registered 18 attempts at goal – twice as many as their previous game with Queens Park Rangers, with eight of those on target as opposed to zero in that game prior to the international break, all with their second highest xG of the entire season at 2.87, as per StatsBomb.

We Are Sunderland: Sunderland recorded their second highest xG of the season in the 2-0 win over Cardiff CitySunderland recorded their second highest xG of the season in the 2-0 win over Cardiff City (Image: StatsBomb)

Sunderland’s fluidity returned. The absurd effortlessness of Chris Rigg, the guile of Aouchiche, the coming of age of Jobe Bellingham all supported by the class of Dan Neil and the return to form of Pierre Ekwah built upon by the foundations of Luke O’Nien and Dan Ballard. This was a Sunderland people can get on board with once more. Chances came and went; Ba, Rigg, Neil, before Sunderland did add a second through Jobe – his seventh of the season. The distinct shift in momentum from the last two months immeasurable as Sunderland rediscovered some of their attacking their mojo.

“When we scored the first goal we looked like we’d relaxed a lot more than what we’ve seen in previous weeks,” said Dodds. “The QPR performance I saw a really anxious team. But as soon as we scored that goal, and they started to find their rhythm, I felt all the stuff we’ve been preaching behind the scenes, which I appreciate not everyone is going to see, was evident. It was a result of a lot of hard work behind the scenes.”

Sunderland have previous for an end of season dash in recent years. Twelve months ago they returned from the March international break and went unbeaten in their remaining eight games to secure a play-off spot following a final day win over Preston North End, having gone seven games unbeaten to end their League One promotion campaign following the international break the year before – a run which formed part of a wider 13-game unbeaten run to close out the season.


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Good Friday’s success over Cardiff sees them three points worse off than the 54 points Mowbray’s side had accrued at the same stage last season – the caveat being they found themselves only six points from sixth-placed Millwall whereas now, they find themselves 13 behind sixth-placed Norwich City.

It highlights two things; Sunderland are underperforming compared to last season, albeit not as drastically as it has felt as far as their points tally is concerned, and the standard in the league has risen when it comes to seeking promotion, with Norwich four points better off than Millwall were after the first game back from the international break in 2023.

We Are Sunderland: Sometimes it's about putting smiles on faces and Sunderland managed that against Cardiff CitySometimes it's about putting smiles on faces and Sunderland managed that against Cardiff City (Image: Ian Horrocks)

To expect Sunderland to see out the rest of the season without defeat would be naïve, given the volume of games this squad has lost this season and some of the opposition they are yet to face. But the burden of needing to end a seven-game winless streak and restore a modicum of pride has dissipated to the point they can now focus on taking something tangible into next season as far as an uplift in mood on Wearside is concerned. 

At the full-time whistle in South Wales there was an element of this being a fresh start - the international break serving its purpose. The issues that have plagued Sunderland this season will not fade away, but after so many lows it was heartening to see a halt to that decline accompanied by reasons to look in the other direction. Sometimes, no matter how short-term, it's about putting smiles on faces.  What comes next will be important, and there's no doubting they will need to replicate this kind of result and performance to build up a degree of trust heading into the summer. 

But at last, Sunderland have remembered what it’s like to win again.