The one shining light in a disappointing week for Sunderland was the continued form of star summer signing Charlie Wyke.
The former Bradford striker was an absolute handful against Burton Albion and created a plethora of chances against Nigel Clough’s men. He was even better in a man of the match showing against Coventry City - scoring and setting up two against the Sky Blues.
If the Black Cats are to overcome a tough schedule to see automatic promotion through, it’s likely the ever-improving target man will be vital in the final run-in.
Amazingly, in a week where he conceded six goals - five of which coming in one game - Jon McLaughlin takes the number two spot. The 31-year-old was crucial in ensuring Sunderland only lost once in the week, making several one-on-one saves in a hectic second-half against Albion.
It is also hard to pin much, if any, blame on the ex-Burton keeper for Sunderland’s Coventry disaster. A mix of inexplicably bad defending and outstanding finishing for this level hurt Sunderland more than any slight positioning or decision-making errors you could maybe nit-pick from a goalkeeping perspective.
Sadly, I can’t complete this column without mentioning our centre-backs. Tom Flanagan put together back-to-back games as bad as anything we’ve seen in the Ellis Short era. Whilst both centre-halves have been up and down all season, and have clear limitations, I’m still baffled as to how Flanagan could play that badly twice.
Jack Baldwin wasn’t much better in either match and was especially poor in the second-half of Sunderland’s collapse against Coventry. The pair of defenders have been put in the Power Rankings dog house, dropping out of the top 20.
1: Charlie Wyke (2) - Wyke has transformed himself from an expensive flop, to a potentially useful squad player, to now looking like a talisman whose performances will go a long way to deciding promotion. Deservedly a first-time champion.
2: Jon McLaughlin (4) - Advances despite shipping an astonishing amount of goals in one week. That in itself tells you a lot about the level of Sunderland’s defending in the past two fixtures.
3: Bryan Oviedo (17) - Another rare shoot of hope to emerge in an otherwise tortuous week for the club. Oviedo’s crossing and technical class is another potential difference-maker for the last five matches.
4: Lewis Morgan (9) - Enjoyed arguably his best game in a Sunderland shirt against Coventry. If Jack Ross can get Morgan performing consistently, he could become a regular in the top five.
5: Max Power (SR) - Stays put at five more due to the deficiencies of his teammates, rather than individual excellence. Power did score in the Coventry game at least.
6: Aiden McGeady (SR) - Somehow, despite barely playing across both matches, McGeady stays at six. His flashes of class in a brief cameo against the Sky Blues was better than many Sunderland players managed across the two matches.
7: George Honeyman (SR) - Honeyman’s determination and dogged competitiveness was on display on both games, but like McGeady and Power, Honeyman keeps his spot mainly due to the failings of others. The skipper just doesn’t create enough playing out wide.
8: Will Grigg (SR) - The 27-year-old endured a tough Tuesday where nothing he tried seemed to come off. Grigg went some way to redeeming himself, scoring in an improved performance against Mark Robbins’ men.
9: Grant Leadbitter (13) - The Mackem playmaker’s lack of defensive awareness was exposed by City. He rises partly due to others poor performances and also as his assist for Baldwin did earn Sunderland a point against Burton.
10: Luke O’Nien (1) - From champion all the way down to tenth, Flanagan and Baldwin’s struggles have allowed two miserable performances from O’Nien to slip under the radar.
11: Dylan McGeouch (3) - Injured at the worst possible time, McGeouch lost his starting place after waiting three months for an opportunity - just rotten luck.
12; Denver Hume (SR) - Stays put despite losing his starting spot to Oviedo. He can thank Baldwin and Flanagan for his favourable ranking.
13: Lee Cattermole (14) - Cattermole’s value to the team has never been clearer than after watching Coventry’s forwards run riot on the counter. If fit he surely starts against Doncaster Rovers.
14: Lynden Gooch (15) - Missed both matches with the hamstring injury he suffered at Rochdale.
15: Kazaiah Sterling (16) - Came on in both games, but the Tottenham loanee didn’t manage a decisive contribution in either meaning he stays out of our top ten, and almost certainly out of the Sunderland starting 11.
16 Benji Kimpioka (23) - Sunderland’s injury crisis at forward has presented unexpected first-team minutes for Kimpioka. His direct running caused Burton a few issues, but like Sterling he’s unlikely to be in the reckoning for a first league start.
17: Reece James (18) - Not involved in either match, still out through injury and a doubt to play another game this season both due to fitness and stiff competition at left-back.
18: Jimmy Dunne (19) - Were Flanagan and Baldwin so bad that Dunne gets another chance? No option at centre-back fills you with confidence, but Dunne seems a likely choice to start versus Rovers given Flanagan’s capitulation.
19: Adam Matthews (20) - How different would Sunderland’s last two games have looked if Matthews was fit? O’Nien is clearly a flat-track bully that only works at right-back against the bad teams, Matthews competence at this level would have helped massively.
20: Duncan Watmore (21) - Back in the top 20 despite being ruled out for the season, and yes, once again, that is because Baldwin and Flanagan were that bad.
21: Chris Maguire 22: Robbin Ruiter 23: Alim Ozturk 24: Bali Mumba 25: Jack Baldwin 26: Tom Flanagan 27: Glenn Loovens 28: Jack Bainbridge 29: Donald Love 30: Jake Hackett 31: Lee Connelly 32: Brandon Taylor 33: Jordan Hunter 34: Daniel Neil 35: Max Stryjek