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Finlay’s Verdict: Is it time to freshen up Sunderland’s starting XI after Ipswich win?

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Sunderland’s poor first half was in stark contrast to their fantastic second - despite winning, should be change up the starting eleven for Rochdale, with one eye on Saturday’s game with promotion hopefuls Oxford?

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

On Saturday, it was Sunderland’s first ever International Fans Day, which saw over 150 supporters from countries like the USA, Taiwan and Canada come to the Stadium of Light to watch the match against Ipswich Town, and they witnessed a familiar sight as Chris Maguire once again stole the headlines with a stunning winner.

How big Maguire’s goal truly is can only be decided at the end of the season, but for now it allows Sunderland to leapfrog Ipswich into the play-off places, and means that the Tractor Boys move out of the top six for the first time since the start of the season.

Although Sunderland can’t go into the automatic spots with a win in their game in hand, it will put them in a much better position than they were just a couple of months ago and the unpredictability of League One is what is making it so captivating this season. At this stage last season, Luton were miles ahead of the chasing pack, with 68 points after 32 games, but Sunderland had three games in hand and failed to make them count.

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

This time, though, all of the top seven could possibly be celebrating promotion come May as the gap between each of the teams is so tight - no-one can predict what is going to happen between now and the end of the season.

The phrase ‘a game of two halves’ adequately sums up what we witnessed on Saturday. No one can really argue against the fact that Ipswich were the team in the driving seat in the first half, and they had their chances but just weren’t clinical enough, something that Paul Lambert addressed in his post-match press conference.

In parts of the first half, frustration began to creep into Sunderland’s game, but it was important that they kept the visitors out at the back and tried to play in our own style. The Lads did see the ball hit the back of the net, courtesy of Charlie Wyke, but it was successfully ruled out for offside - one of the only decisions that the officials called correctly.

Yet again though, Phil Parkinson’s half time team-talk worked on the Black Cats as they emerged for the second period much more energised and determined. They had upped the tempo of their play considerably, and Ipswich found it very difficult to get the ball out of their own half and attack. When the goal finally arrived from Chris Maguire, there could have been no arguing that it wasn’t coming as the hosts were the team that dominated.

Tranmere Rovers v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images

Next, our home match against Rochdale is just around the corner as on Tuesday both teams battle out for the three points. It’s important that we keep with the similar tempo that we were playing with in the second half against Ipswich, because if we do, I can see no way how Rochdale will be able to contain us.

We may see some changes to the starting eleven, with Kyle Lafferty maybe given a chance up top, and it would be good to maybe see Declan John and Antoine Semenyo given some time to impress in front of a home crowd.

Despite being in the bottom half of the table, Rochdale will pose a threat on the attack, like we saw in their third round FA Cup tie with Newcastle. On Saturday they drew 1-1 with Doncaster, showing they’re capable away from home against decent sides, so the Sunderland defence will have to be on their game. That said, I can see no reason why we can’t beat them and thus keep up chase with the league’s pace-setters.