What a difference two games can make. After drawing at home to Accrington Stanley ten days ago, many fans would be forgiven for thinking that Sunderland’s season was hanging in the balance.
A series of, what we saw as, frustrating draws left the Lads looking up at the top two. However, the last two games have totally changed the complexion of the table once more, and Sunderland now have a chance at breaking into the automatic promotion places if they can capitalize on their game in hand over Barnsley.
Jack Ross and his men have showed in the last two games that they’ve started to find a good balance to the team’s play. And, as we move forward, it will be interesting to see if Ross can continue to nurture his side in order to find positive results.
A five-star @Only1Argyle performance, a late winner for @CAFCofficial and a big result for @shrewsweb.— Sky Bet League One (@SkyBetLeagueOne) February 23, 2019
Here's how the table looks after today's fixtures...#EFL | #SkyBetLeagueOne pic.twitter.com/vVsnuFSxmZ
In the below interview, Grant Leadbitter’s analysis of the side’s recent performances summed up the recent sticky spell pretty well. Leadbitter spoke about the side needing to learn from their mistakes, and in the last two games Sunderland have done just that.
Defensively we have looked far more assured, and offensively we have created some fantastic opportunities, which we are starting to put away. Flanagan and Dunne looked a lot less panicky on Saturday, and prevented Bristol from even finding a shot on target.
Leadbitter seemed to suggest that our recent indifferent form has been a great yardstick by which to measure the progress made, and indeed required, in order to ensure we can build momentum heading into the final third of the season.
Sunderland’s defence is slowly starting to look imposing again - perhaps Leadbitter’s assessment bears real truth.
In midfield, Grant Leadbitter and Lee Cattermole have started to form a dependable partnership in the middle of the park - a duo that few would have suggested should be the central partnership required to produce added creativity.
But the experience of the two tenacious midfielders has seemingly provided a platform for the likes of George Honeyman and Aiden McGeady to thrive upon - and both have impressed in the last two games.
McGeady’s talent is clear for all to see, but the same cannot be said for Honeyman. The captain does a brilliant job - that isn’t often seen by many - in acting as a conduit that links play together. Whether that’s giving an option for deeper midfield players to bypass the opposition’s defensive lines, or as a supporting player creating space and options for more advanced players, Honeyman’s movement and ability to recycle the ball is something we really missed in his absence.
Lewis Morgan also deserves high praise for his performance. In the final 25 minutes of the game the Celtic loanee created three excellent opportunities for the team, and gave real attacking impetus to the side.
Essentially, Sunderland’s midfield looks a lot more balanced than it has done recently, and what’s more the strength in depth is also excellent. Finding the right mxture of youth and experience can be tricky, but right now Ross seems to have it bang-on.
Since his debut for @SunderlandAFC, no player has had a direct hand in more @EFL goals for the Black Cats than Will Grigg #EFL | #SkyBetLeagueOne pic.twitter.com/qDzUPGTVj9— Sky Bet League One (@SkyBetLeagueOne) February 23, 2019
Will Grigg’s arrival has also been a welcome relief. Although the Northern Ireland international striker hasn’t bagged goals galore, he has certainly had a great hand in enabling others to score them.
Grigg runs the channels well, he holds up play when needed, and causes real problems for the opposition with his movement and vision. His own personal haul of goals will come, but his impact on those around him has been very noticeable - Grigg is a key component to the way Sunderland play, and it is his all-round performances that have helped Sunderland find a better balance.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Charlie Wyke who has struggled recently, but one encouraging thing to note is the manner in which Wyke found himself in good positions. He’s down on his confidence right now, but a goal or two and he will provide another great option up top.
I personally feel we’ve misplayed the former Bradford striker’s talents; he’s not a traditional target-man, instead he’s someone who does a good job of causing mayhem in the opposition’s penalty area - something he did well on Saturday without any end product. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wyke come good as the season draws to a close - especially if Lewis Morgan gets more game time.