Around 1500 fans travelled the 530 mile round trip to Bristol, with Lee Johnson’s men only winning two games since boxing day. Despite that, it was always going to be a tough game and any positive result would’ve been taken at the start of the day.
If you got to Bristol early there were a few places to go before hand; I went to the local cricket club, Bedminster CC, which also offered match day parking for a fiver. If you came on the train, you could’ve went into the local Wetherspoon’s, the Knight’s Templar, which is close to Temple Meads station, or about a 15 minute walk from the ground is the Nova Scotia, a favourite for away fans of other clubs selling real ales and other local beers. From the city centre, it was a 45 minute walk or about a 20 minute drive to get to the stadium.
The ground, Ashton Gate, is a mostly modern stadium as it was recently redeveloped. However, the away end is the oldest part of the complex and was poorly protected from the rain that soaked the first few rows of the travelling support. The Somerset wind wasn’t pleasant easy to put up with either for the 1500 mackems, especially after the first 45 minutes!
The first half was a disaster to say the least with Chris Coleman’s men conceding in the fifth minute to long term transfer target Aden Flint after he latched onto Marlon Pack’s free kick. The defence failed to execute the offside trap and Lee Camp could do little to deny the big centre half.
Just after the half hour mark, big striker Famara Diedhiou doubled the lead for the Robins with the Black Cats’ defence in a desperate state. Another poorly defended City attack left Coleman’s side in big trouble.
Then again just before the break, Diedhiou made it three when he turned in Ryan Kent’s cross, after missing a sitter minutes before. The fans “let us know” that they weren’t happy said Coleman; ‘you’re not fit to wear the shirt’ rang round the stadium in the closing stages of the first period from the annoyed away support. Some fans left at half time but probably wish they had stayed to see what the second half would bring.
Diedhiou could’ve had his hattrick but opted to punch it into Camp’s goal rather than using his head, which he could’ve easily done. This would’ve almost definitely finished off Sunderland at 4-0 but instead the big Senegalese front man was booked for deliberate handball.
Whatever Coleman said at half time certainly worked. To use the cliche ‘a game of two halves’ would be about right in this case. Fight, determination and passion was shown in the second half by the visitors. This was rewarded 20 minutes from time when Lee Cattermole found himself in unfamiliar territory and headed against Fielding’s bar before it bounced in off Josh Brownhill.
Ten minutes from time, substitute Aiden McGeady gave the Wearsiders hope when he helped on Lee Cattermole’s free kicked, a set piece straight off the training ground. The ball was rolled in from the right hand side after Asoro was fouled, before the Irishman swept the ball past the helpless Frankie Fielding.
Then just before injury time, on loan Boro striker Ashley Fletcher missed an absolute sitter; winger Kazenga LuaLua hit a hopeful shot from range, which was parried onto a golden platter for the Man United academy product. However, he forced a great save from former England youth team goalkeeper Fielding, although he should’ve scored.
The equaliser did come though, youngster Joel Asoro’s cross clipped Marlon Pack’s heel and deflected past Fielding and sent the Sunderland fans into ecstasy! A well deserved point in the end for Sunderland who gave everything second half, certainly felt like a victory for the fans.
If you’d asked any fan before the game I’m sure they’d have said that they’d take a point – especially considering Bristol City’s league position. A long journey was rewarded in the end despite a shambolic first half; the second half was probably the most spirited we’ve seen all season. In my opinion, it was the best away game so far this campaign, even better than the wins at Norwich and Burton! The atmosphere from the red and white army was fantastic and Coleman recognised the fans’ loyalty and dedication in these tough times in his post match interview.
Keep you're eyes peeled next week for the next part of ‘On the Grill’ with 1973 FA Cup legend and Sunderland fan Richie Pitt.