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Talking Points: Reasons why Sunderland have an edge over the other sides in the promotion race

In our post-Bristol Rovers debrief we look at the main Talking Points from our win down south - including how Sunderland now have an edge over the other teams going for promotion, and why we must stick by the likes of Charlie Wyke.

Sunderland AFC

Much needed clean sheet

Having came under fire for some concerning recent performances, it was nice to see Sunderland’s defence put a solid team performance together at Bristol Rovers.

Jon McLaughlin’s recent displays between the sticks have certainly warranted more clean sheets, but yesterday he didn’t actually have to do anything for it as the defence in front of him worked hard to ensure his efforts were minimal at best against a fairly toothless Rovers attack.

There were calls from many supporters for Jimmy Dunne to come out of the side, but Jack Ross placed faith in the youngster in an attempt to keep some consistency and it worked. He and Flanagan seemed to revert to a much simpler game plan, kicking and heading the ball away instead of trying to be too fancy with it.

Luke O’Nien continued to warrant his selection with another energetic performance at right back, scoring in the process, though I’m still not convinced that Reece James offers us enough beyond an ability to follow simple instructions and work hard for the team. Either way, it’s a minor gripe from an otherwise routine defensive performance. It’s a good base to build from ahead of some tougher games in the coming weeks.

Sunderland AFC

Experience is giving us the edge

Right throughout Sunderland’s team yesterday we had players with meaningful experience on their side, and I believe it’s that which we must lean on as we attempt to now put together a run of wins to overtake Barnsley in second place.

Jon McLaughlin, Reece James, Tom Flanagan, Jimmy Dunne, Luke O’Nien, Lewis Morgan and Will Grigg have all been part of promoted teams in the last few years, whilst the likes of Lee Cattermole, Grant Leadbitter and Aiden McGeady are in the twilight of their careers having played the majority of them at a much higher level than the one we find ourselves in currently. How many teams can say they possess an arsenal of players like that?

We have to be confident in our own ability to get the job done now. Our end goal is promotion and there are absolutely no excuses for not achieving it.

I believe we’ve now had our slight blip in form, and in truth it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it could have been. Credit must go to the Lads for not only turning it around against Accrington, but also following that performance up with two routine victories.

It shows we have the character, quality and experience to put any team to the sword on our day - and with room for improvement still there, we can only hope things continue on an upward trajectory from here as we approach the final stage of the season.

Sunderland AFC

Feel sorry for Wyke

Despite all the positivity I feel for yesterday’s performance and result, I can’t let it pass without mentioning Charlie Wyke and the chances he missed.

I actually feel sorry for the lad, as daft as that sounds. He’s missed at least three relatively simple chances in the last few games that you’d expect any striker at any level to put away with ease, and that one right at the end against Bristol Rovers in particular was a stinker.

I bet when he missed what was practically an open goal that he wanted the ground to swallow him whole - his confidence is clearly shot to bits.

But, the positive is that he’s getting himself into good positions in the final third - he just needs to find the goal-scoring boots that saw him notch on 17 occasions at this level last season.

Ultimately, despite failing to do the business occasionally, we have to get behind our strikers. We all know they aren’t meeting expectation in terms of the amount of goals we expect of them this season but we won’t get anywhere if we lose faith.

You don’t become a bad player over night, and I’m still crossing everything in the hope that Wyke can contribute significantly between now and the end of the campaign.

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