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Roker Roundtable: Are there any benefits from having to cancel our next three fixtures? (Part 1)

Other than the obvious benefit of aiming to eradicate COVID-19 from the Sunderland squad - in our first part we ask a couple of our writers to discuss the pros and cons of having to cancel our next three fixtures!

Sunderland v Burton Albion - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Gary Engel says...

After the win on Saturday, our first team would have been buzzing and ready for action on Tuesday, but in the circumstances a draw was a reasonable result. Clearly, any momentum we might have had from the Lincoln match has virtually disappeared.

While training together may be out of the question for a while, there is time for rest and to prepare mentally for the Accrington clash and the grilling set of upcoming League fixtures. The last time Sunderland’s festive fixture list was wiped out was in 1995/96, that was due to snow. But the advantage left us fresh and ready to give Manchester United a scare at Old Trafford.

Later that season, Peter Reid’s newly galvanised Sunderland started to put a run together that including nine straight victories as they made their way through the piled-up fixture list, that ultimately took us all the way to promotion and the League title.

Potentially, in a similar way, with perhaps one or two January additions - Lee Johnson’s team may be able prove their strength in depth compared to much of League One. As much as we know Johnson will trust youth, just as we did on Tuesday, it may force opportunities far quicker - turning boys into men.

Craig Russell celebrates after giving Sunderland the lead at Old Trafford in January 1996

Paul Fletcher says...

Depending on tiers and travel restrictions, the postponements might mean that players get to spend more time with their families over Christmas. Being a professional footballer is an enviable career, with plenty of perks. However one of the downsides must be that you rarely get to have the full Christmas day experience due to Boxing Day fixtures.

I know that there are millions of people in the UK who work on Christmas day and I am in no way trying to say that footballers have it more difficult than these people. But regardless of what you do for a living, being lucky enough to enjoy a normal family Christmas (in a year that has been anything but normal) could be such a huge boost to your mental health.

If I were Lee Johnson, I’d give the lads permission to enjoy a proper Christmas day. You would hope that the players would appreciate it and show that gratitude by putting in a magnificent performance against Accrington on 29th December.

Sunderland v AFC Wimbledon - Sky Bet League One
Lee Johnson
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Another hypothetical advantage we will have is that when we play the rearranged fixtures in 2021, we will have added a few exciting, young loan signings to our squad in the January window. The signing of the aforementioned players will have been meticulously researched and properly planned, meaning that they come in right at the beginning of the window. There will be none of the traditional panic picks the manager doesn’t really want coming in at the eleventh hour on deadline day.

These young stars will have more opportunity to make an impact and will actually want to come to Sunderland because our sporting director and head coach are both in favour of youth development. Their parent clubs will be happy to see them come to Sunderland rather than our League One promotion rivals because they know they’ll be given a chance to play.

On the other hand, with my glass of eggnog half empty, aside from the inevitable fixture pile up, my main worry is that the fallout from this postponement of fixtures could be a total breakdown in trust at some level within the club.

Sunderland v AFC Wimbledon - Sky Bet League One Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

This could have a huge impact upon the attitudes of the club staff (including players) and affect on-field performance.

With these three games are being postponed, then surely players will be demanding answers about why the AFC Wimbledon game went ahead. I could be way off the mark here - maybe the players were fully briefed on the situation and involved in the decision making progress. But if they weren’t, then whoever made the decision to play the game will have a lot of explaining to do.

I know that I’d be asking serious questions if I was under the impression that the company I was working for put the success of the ‘business’ ahead of my health, the health of my colleagues and potentially the health of my family during a global pandemic.

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