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Talking Points: Should Sunderland’s game have gone ahead? & Areas of improvement for Josh Maja

We’re discussing all of the key talking points coming away from yesterday’s abandoned game at Accrington - should it have even gone ahead? Josh Maja - what are his areas for improvement? And, does the call off now present us with an opportunity?

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Should the game have gone ahead?

I don’t mean to sound like a total killjoy here, but I can’t help but wonder... should the game have even gone ahead to start with?

Even before kick off it was suspected that the officials may call the game off, and with good reason. The rain was teeming down from the skies and the pitch looked bad - to say it resembled a ploughed field would be relatively accurate - and, as such, multiple pitch inspections were held by the match officials.

Because the rain had stopped temporarily the game went ahead as planned, but from the second that the first ball was kicked it was clear that the surface was not fit for purpose.

It wasn’t long before the first injury of the game was sustained, and it happened right down on the side of the pitch where it was at its worst - Adam Matthews hobbled off early in the first period, a clear indicator that it was a touch dangerous for the players to be trying to play out there.

Did the sheer amount of fans in the ground yesterday sway the referee’s decision on whether to press ahead with the kick off? Who knows. One thing is clear, though - not one person watching was surprised when he finally put an end to proceedings with seventeen minutes left on the clock.

Perhaps the ref should have gone with his gut instincts before kick off - that way we’d not have yet another injury to deal with going into a busy period when we’re already stretched.

I don’t expect that this will be a popular opinion, but hey ho.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Maguire set the standard

Because of the terrible conditions it was important that when we didn’t have the ball or if there was an opportunity to win a ball, our players had to give absolutely everything. If they didn’t, Accrington would get chances where they otherwise wouldn’t in better conditions.

For the most part I felt that we did a good job of this, particularly in the centre of the park where George Honeyman, Lynden Gooch and Max Power had to work hard. Accrington were just as up for it, so it meant that there was very little between the two sides going into the half time break.

One player that didn’t seem as suited to the conditions was Josh Maja. I’m a big fan of the 19 year old and his goalscoring ability but, if there was one area of his game where I’d say he needs to make a massive improvement I’d say it’s his off-the-ball pressing. It was reassuring to hear Gary Bennett discuss this on Friday night when he appeared on BBC Newcastle - I know we have to be mindful of Maja’s age and inexperience, but we should also be able to recognise where he could be doing better.

In truth, he didn’t really seem as interested in doing the dirty work as his teammates and it was probably the right call to bring him off when we did. When we needed the ball to stick up top it just wasn’t, so Jack Ross elected to make a call that he’s made a few times this season already - he brought Maja off, moved Chris Maguire up top and brought Luke O’Nien on to shore us up in midfield.

Almost immediately it did the trick - having had virtually no challenge all afternoon from Maja, Connor Ripley in the Accrington goal took his time in launching a long pass forward and it was chased down by Maguire, who got in the way and scored after the ball cannoned off him and into the back of the net.

It was such a simple change from Ross but it paid off almost immediately - a reminder to Josh Maja, perhaps, that sometimes he needs to do more of the ‘gritty’ stuff when we aren’t really seeing much of the ball.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Abandonment presents an opportunity

Had the game somehow continued, and ended as a draw, it would have been a bad day at the office. Luton and Portsmouth both won which would have meant that a draw would have set us back slightly - so I guess, in a strange way, having another crack at getting the three points at some stage in the future could actually be a good thing.

Obviously there are no guarantees in football, but I’d like to think that in better conditions and on a better pitch we’d have won that game. For the entirety of the game it was a battle, and no good football was really played. It - with no disrespect intended - brought them on to a level playing field to us, and whilst we matched them for effort it was still very difficult for us to create chances and keep possession for large parts of the game like we normally do.

So whilst we can probably ill-afford another game on our already congested schedule, let’s try and see the positives - it’s another chance for us to win all three points, and as there are other teams up there with us in similarly good form, those could count for something come the end of the season.

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