A performance synonymous of the campaign: five reflections on Sunderland’s defeat to Watford

Sunderland’s 2023-24 away travels ended on Saturday with a 1-0 defeat to Watford at Vicarage Road in the Sky Bet Championship.

Ryan Andrews’ 64th-minute strike sealed the Hornets’ first home league win since November and extended the Black Cats’ poor run of form to only two wins in their last 14 matches.

Here are the key talking points:


It was a sad build-up leading into Saturday’s game after the announcement of the death of Sunderland legend, Charlie Hurley.

Thursday’s news of Hurley’s passing was both sad and reminiscent of some of the best days for supporters of a certain age, and Hurley’s name was being belted out throughout the afternoon at Vicarage Road.

Both sets of supporters, then, joined in a minute’s applause with an image of the former centre-back being shown on the big screens inside the stadium.

The club’s Player of the Century in 1979, Hurley’s legacy on the club was that immense that Saturday’s final-day clash with Sheffield Wednesday is likely to be a poignant day of tributes and sadness towards the death of one of the club’s greatest players.

Retired Sunderland player Charlie Hurley is received by fans before the Premier League match at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland. Credit: Alamy


Mike Dodds labelled last weekend’s defeat to Millwall as “boring” and demanded his players to step back up to levels he knows they are capable of.

To an extent, he saw that in a performance that arguably did warrant three points, but yet again in this campaign, a lack of cutting edge in attack and a defence error led to Tom Cleverley’s side taking their first home league three points in 2024.

Chris Rigg, Trai Hume and Jack Clarke all had great opportunities to give the Black Cats some sort of cushion on their final away outing of the season, but were left to rue missed opportunities – the story of their campaign, and their demise from the play-off positions.


Patrick Roberts has looked a shadow of himself all season, and after 12 goal involvements last season (five goals and seven assists), he has only managed just the two assists all campaign.

Perhaps an element of that is the absence of Amad Diallo, who he linked up so well with last season, but the winger hasn’t hit the standards set upon his return to Championship football.

Playing against Watford will ring in the memory of supporters in relation to Roberts, as his wonderful curling effort in injury time in their penultimate match of last season kept the club’s play-off ambitions alive going into the final-day.

However, here in London, he had the chance to salvage a point for the Black Cats, as Luis Hemir’s cut-back was set up brilliantly for the 27-year-old, but at the vital moment, fell over the ball.

2X0T1NA West Bromwich, UK. 13th Apr, 2024. Sunderland’s Patrick Roberts makes an attacking run in the closing minutes during the EFL Sky Bet Championship match between West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland at The Hawthorns, West Bromwich, England on 13 April 2024. Photo by Stuart Leggett. Editorial use only, license required for commercial use. No use in betting, games or a single club/league/player publications. Credit: UK Sports Pics Ltd/Alamy Live News


Many Sunderland supporters have been calling for some of the club’s under-23’s to be given an opportunity in the matchday squad in the final games of the season, and here was the first showing of that.

Dodds has reiterated the same message over recent weeks that players aren’t being given “token” appearances, but after an impressive season for the under-23’s, Tommy Watson was included in the matchday squad.

Though he didn’t get an opportunity to gain some first-team minutes, he was involved in Sunday’s 4-0 win over Blackburn Rovers for the under-23’s, which sealed their involvement in next season’s PL International Cup and have a home fixture in this season’s PL2 play-offs.


Sunderland’s season has reached its final stretch, and they close their campaign out at the Stadium of Light against Sheffield Wednesday.

Danny Rohl’s Owls need a point to guarantee their Championship survival – a remarkable feat for the club given their predicament when the German came into the management role.

It is likely that all the final-game normalities will ensue, as well as Hurley tributes, but as the Black Cats head into their biggest summer for a while, ending on a win would be a relief to end Dodds’ third interim spell in charge.