Sunderland reaping rewards for their groundwork
Wins like the one Sunderland earned on Saturday come as a result for all the hard work put in on the training ground in improving our fitness and defensive awareness.
It comes as a result of the consistency in selection, in shape-work and performance.
We knew that Oxford would pose a threat. They took a Premier League team, Newcastle, to a replay and extra time only recently. They’re heralded as one of the best footballing sides in the division, and possess two of the best players in the league - Cameron Brannagan and Marcus Browne - in their arsenal.
It therefore was of the utmost importance that Sunderland arrived knowing exactly what they were there to do - to get the job done by whatever means necessary.
And there’s been nothing stereotypical about the recent performances of Phil Parkinson’s side - we’ve shown our versatility whilst simultaneously managing to pick up victories in many different situations. We ground Ipswich down. We battered and outplayed Rochdale. Then, on Saturday, we respected Oxford enough to know what threat they’d pose but ultimately completed the job that we turned up to do.
Make no bones about it - these are the traits of a team headed for promotion. Our defensive solidity is ensuring that we are giving ourselves the best possible chance to win these games in whatever manner the flow of the game dictates that we do - inspiring stuff.
They won it in 90 seconds, but we dominated for 90 minutes.
I thought in every area we dominated.
When they defend so deep with the five and the two sitting in front you are reliant on the ball dropping to you. They’re in a moment where the ball is dropping for them in the defensive areas.
I thought we moved the ball efficiently and aggressively. I thought we played forwards very early and asked a number of questions of their back line.
It’s probably the most I’ve seen them pushed so far in this run that they’re on. It doesn’t make it any easier for us or the fans that we’ve got beat again, we accept that, but what more can the players do?
The rather bemusing words of Oxford gaffer Karl Robinson there, who seems to think his side absolutely battered Sunderland on Saturday and dominated “in every area”.
By no means do I believe that we outplayed our opposition across the ninety minutes, but reading what he’s had to say there you’d think we were lucky to win the game.
Frankly, his team didn’t defend well enough at the start of the match and, as such, we set up to defend the lead and restrict what they were able to do down the flanks. The 60-40% possession share shows Oxford saw more of the ball, but this isn’t anything particularly unique - in most fixtures up and down the country, the home team will tend to see more of the ball, particularly if they’ve conceded early and are chasing the game.
Oxford had just three shots on target, none of which particularly troubled Jon McLaughlin. They did, at times, pepper our box with deep crosses which our defenders swatted away with ease. The only real ‘sitter’ I recall was the header by Josh Ruffels that struck the side netting. Despite Robinson’s claim that his team moved the ball efficiently and aggressively, I don’t recall their strikers having many opportunities in the game to score.
Of course, managers will often look to talk up and protect their players in public in order to relieve some of the pressure on them, but I can’t help but feel that Robinson has been slightly deluded in his assessment of the game.
His team weren’t good enough, that’s the fact of the matter, and they haven’t been good enough for some time, which is why they’ve slid right down the table and are now so far off the pace. The U’s have lost against Doncaster, Rotherham, Peterborough and Sunderland since the turn of the year, and also failed to beat Ipswich and Gillingham - all teams they’re supposed to be competing with for a place in the top six.
Perhaps it’s time for Mr Robinson to look within, and ask himself whether he actually believes what he’s saying when he’s talking up his side after defeats in big games against teams they absolutely need to compete with if they’re going to get promoted.