Sunderland put through emotional wringer at Wycombe, but produce a performance to be proud of
Joy. Pain. Relief. Delight. Disappointment.
Sunderland fans went through the emotional wringer at Wycombe.
Joy when the early own-goal went in; pain as Wycombe scored twice to turn the game on its head; relief when Ross Stewart levelled things up almost immediately; delight when Stewart struck again in injury-time; disappointment at dropping two points with virtually the last kick of the match.
But the overwhelming emotion that underpinned Sunderland's performance at Adams Park was that of pride.
The Black Cats were determined to play, despite losing seven players to Covid and five to injury, and they came within an ace of winning away against one of their promotion rivals - and one of the most awkward League One sides to play against to boot.
Victory would have seen Sunderland return to the top of the table but, given that laundry list of absentees, before kick-off many would have gratefully accepted a point away from home against a Wycombe side that began the afternoon in fourth place.
So when at the final whistle Lee Johnson admitted he was disappointed with the draw, it spoke volumes.
He - like Sunderland fans - was not disappointed with his side's performance, but at the result because a point was insufficient reward for their efforts.
That is not to say that there was no room for improvement.
Conceding three goals was not part of the plan.
And the fact that two of them, including the late leveller, came from set-plays - Wycombe took three corners and scored from two of them - was far from ideal.
But, despite those gripes, Sunderland played some scintillating football and the supporters were certainly not shortchanged in terms of excitement.
Sunderland's problems with injuries and Covid had minimal effect on the starting XI with 21-year-old goalkeeper Anthony Patterson, who was one of three youngsters recalled from loan spells elsewhere on the eve of the game, the only non-regular first-teamer to play.
It was the substitutes bench that was understrength - Denver Hume and Jack Diamond aside, the other five substitutes had made just one league appearance for Sunderland between them.
Sunderland made the best possible start, taking the lead inside five minutes as Stewart's header hit the underside of the bar, bounced on the line, hit keeper David Stockdale on the leg and eventually crept into the net.
Anis Mehmeti equalised with a deflected strike before the quarter-hour, and Sam Vokes completed the turnaround ten minutes before half-time with a controversial goal that could have been ruled out for either a foul on Patterson or an offside but was instead allowed to stand.
But Stewart evened things up minutes later from an Elliot Embleton cross, and in the second half Sunderland could have run away with the game as Corry Evans was denied by Stockdale in a one-on-one, Stewart saw a header brilliantly cleared off the line by Joe Jacobson, and then Embleton curled a shot against the bar.
Evans was later stretchered off after being knocked out following a collision with Patterson, and the midfielder's lengthy treatment meant nine extra minutes were added.
Lynden Gooch set up Stewart to make it 3-2 in the 93rd minute, but Jacobson had the final word.
And the draw extended Sunderland's unbeaten run to ten league games and it meant they stayed second with Rotherham ahead of them on goal difference, albeit the Millers now have a game in hand.