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Talking Points: Don’t judge Sunderland on Walsall defeat, judge us on how we respond on Saturday

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Sunderland were terrible last night but, having played a lot of football in recent weeks, fatigue may be starting to show. That said, it’s important we don’t take the result too seriously - how we react on Saturday is more important.

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Heavy schedule is starting to show

I’ve felt that we’ve not looked as sharp in recent weeks and, even despite changing the team around where he can, Jack Ross can’t really do a great deal about that when we’re playing three games almost every week.

Last night it really showed, perhaps more so than at any point this season, that we were feeling the strain of the physically intense games, training and travelling.

The performance was flat, we never really got going and struggled to make playing on our home pitch count - the wider, longer surface actually counted against us for once and Walsall got in behind our defence more than I’d care to mention, with a combination of their poor finishing and our strong goalkeeper ensuring that the end result wasn’t as one-sided as it perhaps could have been.

So with that in mind, perhaps we should look at this as a ‘good’ result, even though we ultimately lost. Staying in the cup means we’d be adding to our already congested fixture list, so there’s that at least - instead, we can focus on the two competitions that we’re still in and stand a chance of winning this season.

Jack Ross will be keen to change things up again at the weekend, but must also be wary that some of the players he’s leaned heavily on in recent weeks - namely Max Power, Tom Flanagan, Jack Baldwin and Chris Maguire - all badly under-performed, perhaps a sign that they too are showing signs of fatigue.

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Sinclair improvement needed

I felt really bad for Jerome Sinclair last night, who gave his worst performance of the season. Nothing he tried seemed to come off, and despite putting in a lot of effort it was almost like he was trying too hard - and, as such, he stood out more than any other player for having a particularly terrible evening.

Sinclair’s best role in the squad is as a work-horse, a foil for the other more clinical attackers that we have that can score goals with more regularity, so when he’s given the chance to start games it often highlights the huge deficiencies in his all-round game.

I’m aware he’s a very young man, and actually has less ‘professional’ experience than even Josh Maja, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. But with January right around the corner and the attacking pair of Duncan Watmore and Charlie Wyke on the cusp of a first-team return, Sinclair needs to be careful as these poor performances will have been noted. If he gets a chance on Saturday, against Bristol Rovers, he has to prove to everyone why he’s of worth to this squad.

If he doesn’t, I predict a difficult second half of the season for the Watford loanee.

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Don’t judge us on this, but the next game

Yes, last night was terrible, but we mustn’t judge this team based on what we saw last night. It’s how we respond to the result and performance that is important - a home game against a side who have lost their last four is something to relish, and affords us with a chance to really prove to the rest of this division where we are at.

Portsmouth lost last night against Charlton in league action, so whilst it was a bad night on the pitch for us it was a decent one off it, for reasons out of our control.

This is a great opportunity to not only put last night’s bad performance to bed but to also reaffirm how strong this team is and to show Portsmouth that, ahead of the game on the south coast the week after, we’re gunning for them and their spot at the top.

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