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Talking Points: “Ex-Peterborough captain has played himself into Sunderland’s team on Saturday!”

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In our post-game debrief of the key Talking Points from the draw at Barnsley, we look at how a man of the match performance from a returning defender has guaranteed him a spot in Sunderland’s side when we face Walsall on Saturday.

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Wind was a spoiler

It goes without saying that the adverse weather conditions completely ruined what should have been a great game of football between two of the league’s best sides.

Every goal kick was like a lottery - Jon McLaughlin was relatively helpless and just had to hope he’d catch the wind at a good time, whilst pretty much every player on the park struggled to control the ball due to the fact they had no idea how it’d land.

It’s a real shame, and not something we can do anything about of course, but having that knowledge helps to put the performance and end result into perspective. When Barnsley had the wind in the first half they battered us but, to the credit of our players, we managed to ride through the opening 45 minutes as unscathed as we were at the start of play.

So, in the grand scheme of things, maybe a point and a clean sheet isn’t such a bad thing. We’d have liked to have won and kept up our fine record of scoring with regularity - that was the first time in 360 days that Sunderland have failed to notch in league action - but at least we didn’t lose the game.

It means we’re still four points behind yesterday’s opponents, but they have a tough derby game on Friday night with Doncaster Rovers and we still have a game in hand. I’m sure there are still plenty of twists and turns to come - I just hope we get a bit of luck.

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Jack Baldwin played himself back into contention

My personal man of the match last night was Jack Baldwin, who had a terrific game under immense pressure, playing with poise when the weather conditions probably gave him the hardest test that he’s faced all season.

Because neither side were able to get their foot on the ball for long periods due to the high winds, it meant that a lot of long balls were played - but to Baldwin’s credit he ate the majority of them up and played with an aggression rarely seen from a Sunderland defender this season.

Even when he did have time on the ball he distributed it well the wide players, and generally just gave a terrific all-round performance - exactly the type of showing you want to see from a player who, just last week, was being left out of Jack Ross’ matchday squads entirely due to a drop in form and a deterioration of his previously strong on-the-field mentality.

Baldwin has now played himself back into contention and, regardless of how Tom Flanagan recovers from the concussion he sustained at Wycombe, the former Peterborough United captain deserves to start at the weekend when Walsall visit the Stadium of Light.

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Grigg isolated again

Whilst I don’t want to analyse individual performances too much on this occasion, it was frustrating to see how isolated Will Grigg was yet again up front.

I think one of Jack Ross’ strengths as a coach this season has been in recognising when to make changes, but it was fairly apparent to everyone inside the ground last night that Grigg needed better support early in the second half when we had the wind and all of the momentum - but, instead, it was frustratingly left until the end of normal time before we brought Kaz Sterling on to play alongside him.

This was, of course, far too late. Had Sterling been introduced earlier I feel we might have got something from the game - Barnsley’s defenders struggled to deal with our long balls forward due to the aforementioned weather conditions, and perhaps with the pace of Sterling just playing off the shoulder we might have caught them with more regularity.

I’m not worried about Grigg as a player but I am worried about the way that we’re using him. He’s not bad at doing the dirty work, but when you’ve got a player capable of scoring goals like he does, why would you want him to be 50 yards from their goal with his back to it, trying to scrap for headers and loose balls?

It makes me appreciate just how difficult things must have been this season for Charlie Wyke and Jerome Sinclair, two far less talented forwards who also suffered due to the way we play it up to our strikers.

Get someone closer to him and let him concentrate on getting into good positions - surely that makes more sense than expecting him to play the role of target man? It’s easier said than done of course, but tactically we don’t seem to be doing our best by our star January striker. If we want him to score goals and fire us to promotion, a quick solution is needed.

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