What The Gaffer Said
Can you imagine how Sam might have reacted to the officiating of yesterday's game if our top flight status had hinged on the result? Though he makes a point of mentioning how bad Kevin Friend and his linesman were, I feel he might have held back slightly knowing that in the grand scheme of things it meant very little.
There were a few decisions that didn’t go our way today.
The fans came down and they sang all the way through and were entertained; they got to see some of our younger players, who I think stood up to the test today and played very well indeed.
We created a huge amount of chances and we got in front twice. The killer for us was Duncan [Watmore]’s goal – that would have made it 2-0 and I think it should have been allowed, however it wasn’t to be.
Eleven games, one defeat; no defeats in the last six games and 12 points from those games.
Watford played a full strength side and we only had a couple of players that have been involved in our last seven games.
What we’ve seen today stands us in good stead for the future.
We have to make sure we go into next season, build on this and don’t start the way we have done the last few years. We need a good start and to look much better, that’s what we need to concentrate on.
For now, that was a brilliant send-off for the fans, we matched Watford in every department and what we saw was very pleasing, they could enjoy their day.
I'm glad Sam made a point of reminding us that we only lost one of our last eleven games - against Champions Leicester - because it's a reminder to fans of other clubs that we haven't just pulled a rabbit out of our arses again, which seems to be the narrative. We've deserved survival and have played well since the end of the January transfer window.
The Kids Are Alright
Due to the scale of how much change we're likely to see over the summer in terms of playing staff it was important for our younger players that they impressed in yesterday's game, and not one of them disappointed me.
Vitally, Tom Robson had a great game and with a spot in the squad for a left back up for grabs, Robson has not done his chances any harm going into pre-season. That said, he'd benefit more from going out on loan next season than he would sitting on our bench, but it's certainly something for Sam to think about.
Rees Greenwood wasn't too bad either. He played a lovely ball into Duncan Watmore to set up the counter attack which led to Jeremain Lens' goal and, importantly, he didn't look out of place. Greenwood is still very young and green but his form for the reserves this season meant he had earned his chance to play for the first team and the hope now is that he can kick on and not be just another talented youngster to come through the Sunderland academy that fails to make any impact whatsoever on the first-team scene.
Duncan Watmore was arguably our man of the match. He and Jordan Pickford go off with England to the Toulon Tournament now before heading on their holidays and I have absolutely no doubt that both will be a massive part of next season's plans.
It's pleasing to see Sunderland actively integrating these players into the first team.
Food For Thought
One of the most surprising aspects of yesterday's performance was that Jeremain Lens, Dame N'Doye and Jack Rodwell all put in good performances, reminding us and the manager that they could perhaps contribute something on our quest for the mid-table next season.
N'Doye was played in his favoured role as a centre forward and it was easily his best performance yet in a Sunderland shirt. He's looked utterly hopeless playing as a left midfielder so I guess for him it was nice to finally start a game up front. I'm still not convinced that he's good enough, but he did he chances of earning a permanent contract no harm.
Rodwell got stuck in, passed the ball well and scored a good goal, finishing from a tight angle on his left foot. He's clearly a decent player - Manchester City don't sign complete duds all that often - but his application and fitness issues have been a concern throughout his time at the club. I still can't ignore that stat about us never winning a game he's started either. Still, he did well. To be honest we'll probably struggle to shift him on and Sam may well have to stick by him next season, so I guess we'll wait and see what happens with Jack. The hope is that he kicks on and finally shows us why we spent ten million pounds on him two years ago.
Jeremain Lens' case is pretty much the same as Jack Rodwell's - he cost us lots of money and came with a huge reputation, but has rarely shown us why we invested so much in recruiting him. That said, Lens did very well yesterday both offensively and defensively and we may think twice of selling him on the back of that performance. If we do sell him, it was a nice reminder to potential suitors that he's a decent footballer when he wants to be.