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Roker Roundtable: Are there any benefits from having to cancel our next three fixtures? (Part 2)

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Other than the obvious benefit of aiming to eradicate COVID-19 from the Sunderland squad - in our second part we ask more of the RR panel to discuss the pros and cons of having to cancel our next three fixtures!

Sunderland v AFC Wimbledon - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Philip West says...

If I can dare to look on the bright side without veering into ‘happy clapper’ territory, I can see two potential positives of Sunderland’s next three fixtures being postponed. The first is that it will allow the players to recharge their batteries after what has been a congested and often difficult last couple of months.

The games have been coming thick and fast, and results have been inconsistent, to say the least. This Covid-enforced interruption, though untimely, may at least allow the players to regroup and to approach the second half of this stop-start season with a new level of vigour.

I also think the pause will give Lee Johnson some time to fully analyse the state of play at the club. He’s been pitched straight in, at a difficult time of the season, and is doubtless still finding his feet, so perhaps this hiatus from action will allow him to work on tactics and establish a vision of how he’d like us to approach the remainder of the season when we finally get back to playing.

Sunderland v AFC Wimbledon - Sky Bet League One
Lee Johnson
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

He’ll certainly have plenty to think about, with the likes of Jack Diamond and Mitch Curry certainly doing their cause no harm at all recently, and I suspect Johnson will have been impressed with what he’s seen from them. A settled first XI will be key moving forward, so this is a good chance for him to plan ahead.

The negatives? We needed to build momentum over the Christmas period, and I thought we would have a good chance of doing just that, with the Shrewsbury and Blackpool games in particular marked down as winnable.

As such, we won’t have any other choice but to watch the teams around us plough headlong into their festive fixtures. Suffice it to say, the league table is likely to look absolutely brutal from a Sunderland perspective, and it’s likely that we’ll be well off the pace as 2020 fades into 2021.

It will be vital to build up a winning run and claw back the lost ground. I really hope that Lee Johnson drives home this message: if we can overcome a COVID outbreak, as well as our own patchy recent form, promotion will be the greatest reward of them all, and it’ll have been earned the hard way.

Sunderland v Burton Albion - Sky Bet League One
Luke O'Nien may be closer to fitness when Sunderland are able to restart the League One schedule
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Malcolm Dugdale says...

I think the biggest plus point could potentially be the time that the new manager will be afforded to embed his theory into the players. Granted, they cannot train together, but he said himself that he prefers to avoid overwhelming players with his theory as that can cause key aspects to not stick, and with half a tactic you are often worse off than with none.

He can do lots of online education while the lads stay fit in their own gyms and out running, and when they get back to the academy, this will hopefully help the whole squad gel with the theory, as the starting XI did at Lincoln.

This break also provides time for injuries to heal and for key players to get back to full match fitness. The list of beneficiaries could include Josh Scowen, Lynden Gooch, Jordan Willis, Luke O’Nien, Denver Hume, Morgan Feeney, Arbenit Xhemajli, Benji Kimpioka and even some of the younger players such as Cieran Dunne and Ollie Younger.

Sunderland v AFC Wimbledon - Sky Bet League One
Lynden Gooch
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

In theory we could be better placed to play these fixtures later in the season with all the above fully fit and fully up to speed with the managers methods. There is a risk that others will get injured between now and then, but we surely should have a better crop to pick from later in the season than now?

The final potential advantage could be in the area of transfer planning for the January 2021 transfer window. With less on the pitch training and drills to plan, this may afford some time for Speakman and Johnson to get their heads down and really think about targets for the window.

January is often labelled as a challenging transfer period where you are very lucky if you find anyone willing to leave, and even more fortunate to find someone who can really make a difference to the squad. With this extra time, hopefully the needs for the new shape, tactics and direction, can help the sporting director and head coach create a strong and viable list of candidates to give us that extra boost in the home straight towards promotion.

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