Sunderland claimed their annual 1-0 home win against moneybags Manchester City thanks to a superb team performance and a second half Adam Johnson goal. Here is what we made of it.
What The Gaffer Said
Martin O'Neill was surprisingly brief in his post-match comments to safc.com. Frankly, he was probably as knackered as the rest of us. He said:
The players were brilliant from start to finish.
They were really up against it with Manchester City going with the strongest side that they could put out.
We had to match that and we did.
We were committed and had some fantastic touches throughout the game. We could have scored more goals!
Everybody worked incredibly hard for the team. Wingers coming back to help full-backs and then full-backs getting forward to cover, it was just brilliant.
Today the crowd were right behind us from the start and kept with us.
It was a great atmosphere.
I think it was important for him to stress how many good chances we created. In fact, the better quality chances all belonged to Sunderland. The defending was brilliant, but O'Neill does well to not allow people to simply put this one down as a backs-to-the-wall lucky win.
It was an incredible hard-earned three points, yes but fully-deserved too.
Must Have Been A Canny Turkey
I have no idea what the lads had for their Christmas dinner but whatever it was it must have been very good. The energy levels on display in this game were bordering on the superhuman.
Manchester City started very quickly but it was apparent from the first whistle that Sunderland were either going to get something from the game or make the visitors do something very special to beat them.
That gave the crowd something to latch onto and as the game wore on the crowd gave it all back in droves. You could have got a TARDIS in your Christmas stocking and have all of space and time at your disposal and still not be able find any football team to have ever put any more into a game.
It was a performance and day that the entire club can and should be hugely proud of.
O'Neill Has Proved His Point
There were not many genuinely questioning the position of Martin O'Neill during the rougher times this season but there were some. In fact, some sections of the media such as Alan Shearer and Stan Collymore seemed to actively enjoy fueling it.
He has surely now proved his point, however, that he is absolutely the right man for this job. Had Ellis Short sacked him after Chelsea and the new manager produced three wins from the next four, I am sure we'd have all been hailing the new man as some kind of magician.
But O'Neill has demonstrated just why he has never been sacked before; he possesses that rare managerial gift of being able to generate momentum from nothing and string results together.
Lets hope that the next time we have a tough run of results more people will have learned to appreciate just what a tremendous manager we have at the club.
A Rest Is As Good As A Change?
While we are on the subject of backing people going through a rough time, it would be negligent in the extreme to not mention what a superb performance James McClean produced against the champions.
The former Derry man has been much maligned this season as he endured his inevitable dip in form and struggled to reproduce his displays of last season.
I have seen plenty suggest this was his best game of the season so far, but I'd go further than that and suggest that is was his best ever game in a Sunderland shirt.
It wasn't what he necessarily did with the ball that was so impressive (although he was a threat all afternoon), it was his work without it. His running was relentless and he was a real warrior in the tackle.
Calls for him to be replaced have not been in short supply of late, particularly since Poppygate, but the rest he enjoyed from his spell in the substitutes bench seems to have done him the world of good.
Destined For The Top
A lot has been made in the media about the foul in the build-up to the goal but it was not decisive. The decisive factor in this one was probably that one team had with them the best goalkeeper in the Premier League, and the other had Joe Hart.
In all my years as a Sunderland fan I can't recall seeing a player for us quite so obviously destined for the top as Simon Mignolet. He makes top saves look easy and seems to have added a really commanding presence to his game this season.
He is the kind of player who can singularly turn one point into three and no points into one, and whilst we will struggle to keep hold of him to see his peak years, it is vital we keep hold of him as long as we possibly can.
Leave Gardner Be
I am quite certain that Craig Gardner sees himself as a midfielder still but he will never be as good in that position as he is right now at full back.
His tackling is good, his positioning is good, and his delivery into the box from wide areas chronically underrated. What is more, he seems to be forging a genuine partnership with Adam Johnson on the right hand side,
Hopefully with midfield reinforcements likely to be high on O'Neill's shopping list next month, Gardner can now settle down to staking a claim for the position long term. He is a great character to have around but, more importantly, he is a really fine full back whether he wants to be or not!
Top Individual Performances All Round
If we did a Quick Kick for everyone in red and white who deserved it we'd be here all day. We have singled out Simon Mignolet, Craig Gardner, and James McClean but it could have been any number of players.
Stephane Sessegnon was simply superb and noticably moving the ball in the final third quicker than he has been of late, and Jack Colback not only took on Yaya Toure but bested him.
It was just one of those days when everyone played their part.
Monthly 'Sign Danny Rose' Kick
Just do it Martin. Just do it...