Danny Graham on his perfect start on Sunderland return
This wasn’t how Danny Graham would have imagined it.
His long wait for a goal at the Stadium of Light finally brought to an end, and met only with muted celebrations and few high-fives – rather than the rapturous applause of 30,000 joyous home supporters.
It was a muted return to Wearside for the striker who made his second debut for the Black Cats in the 8-1 win over Aston Villa under-21s, having put pen to paper on a one-year contract earlier this week.
Naturally, there was a great deal of intrigue around Graham’s first outing in a Sunderland shirt since 2016. And while he only featured for 20 minutes, there was plenty to take away from the cameo appearance of the returning striker.
Not least his goal: a tidy finish from inside the area after a good cross from the lively Josh Scowen.
Graham may not score a simpler goal all season, but nor may he score a more important one – for Sunderland fans know only too well how important it is that new strikers hit the ground running.
We all remember the long wait for Will Grigg’s first goal in red and white and the increasing scrutiny he was placed under as chances came and went.
There are differences, of course – not least the financial outlay involved in both deals – but the simple facts remain the same. The sooner a striker is off the mark, the better.
"Second time around, to get off the mark early is the perfect start,” admitted Graham post-match.
“Hopefully that can be the catalyst for me to kick on, have a good season and get us out of this league.”
Encouragingly, there were plenty of other signs from Graham’s promising (if brief) second debut.
The 35-year-old looked energetic and not too short of match fitness, although there will undoubtedly be question marks as to whether he could perform for 90 minutes given his limited pre-season.
He also did exactly what a Phil Parkinson striker must do – he pressed high, put the defence under pressure, ran the channels and was always a willing option when deliveries came into the box.
That was evident for Sunderland’s fourth goal, as Graham peeled away from his marker to nod Lynden Gooch’s looping cross back into a dangerous area. Villa couldn’t clear their lines and Scowen was able to pounce and trigger the remarkable 15-minute spell that saw the Black Cats net five times.
There will naturally still be doubts surrounding the signing of Graham, though – and it would be rash to judge the merits, or otherwise, of any new signing purely on a 20-minute display against a Premier League development side.
But Graham has already taken an important step in convincing the skeptics that he is the man to fire Sunderland to promotion by grabbing that first goal.
For the longer that drought had continued, the more the concerning noises would have escalated.
And they may yet rise again if Graham doesn’t continue on the goal trail.
He, more than anyone, will know that.