Some half-time truths helped to spark a dramatic Sunderland improvement as the Black Cats came from behind to beat Plymouth 3-1 and climb into the Sky Bet Championship’s top six.
Michael Beale’s side trailed at the break after Ryan Hardie’s opener for Plymouth, but Sunderland were transformed after the restart and extended their unbeaten Championship stretch to three games with three “special” goals.
Pierre Ekwah levelled for the home side seven minutes after half-time before Jack Clarke’s stunning 14th goal of the season just before the hour mark. Substitute Jobe Bellingham then wrapped up the points just two minutes after coming off the bench with a fine third.
“We only played in one half, to be honest,” said Beale, whose side have now won successive games at the Stadium of Light.
“We started the game well, but we really fell away and there were too many individual errors.
“We went really bold with our line-up and it certainly impacted our cohesion early in the game, I wasn’t pleased with our pressing.
“We had honest words at half-time, got out there early and I thought from the moment we kicked off, we were much much better.
“We scored three excellent goals and we’re mixing around the goalscorers now as well. It was three special goals.”
Beale endured a difficult start to life at Sunderland, but is excited by what his youthful side are capable of.
He said: “We’re a young team and so we always can get better. In that first half, there weren’t too many in a Sunderland shirt who did themselves justice and we spoke about that.
“We spoke about wanting to excite our fans at home, to run, play front-foot football and for people to express themselves.
“I could have made five subs, but I told the players that I thought it was the right team and they had to put it right.
“We didn’t want any regrets and I expected more. The second half was fantastic and we have to stay at that level.”
For Plymouth boss Ian Foster, it was a first Championship defeat since replacing Steven Schumacher as Argyle head coach.
He congratulated Sunderland on a “wonderful second-half performance”, but was critical of referee Anthony Backhouse.
Foster was frustrated at the fact his side were down to 10 men when Jack Clarke scored the home side’s second goal, with midfielder Adam Forshaw having received treatment for an injury.
He said: “My understanding is a player has to spend 30 seconds off the pitch, which he did, and they won’t allow him on.
“I got told then the fourth official must get a signal from the referee to allow him back on, which he does straight after they score, which is disappointing.
“In that moment, it’s become very costly for us. He’s got injured, he’s received treatment, I don’t understand why it’s a punishment.
“I’ll try and choose my words carefully here, if I was the referee I’d go home disappointed tonight having watched the game back. I thought it was a very one-sided decision-making process from him.”