Across the pitch this past weekend, Sunderland were second best to an energetic Portsmouth side who ended our impressive unbeaten run.
The first half of the game was a tense affair with Portsmouth’s goal arguable coming against the run of play. However, once the home side bagged a second the contest was seemingly over.
The game wasn’t a capitulation by any means, but Sunderland fans will be anxious to see their side show improvement as they head into a crucial run of games.
In fact, it could be argued that Sunderland’s next three games are season defining. Ipswich visit Wearside this coming Saturday, swiftly followed by Rochdale for a Tuesday evening match, before the Lads travel to Oxfordshire to face an Oxford United side who lost key players this January.
Should Sunderland emerge from this trio of tricky fixtures with a decent haul of points, then the hunt for promotion would very much still be on. However, if Parkinson’s men fall short then the side will face an anxious end to the season.
It goes without saying that a win against Portsmouth would have been a fantastic result. But in search of a silver lining, Sunderland might well move on from the game with a newfound sense of determination.
Occasionally failure can be the catalyst for success, and with such a critical juncture of the season looming just on the horizon, Sunderland’s taste of defeat this weekend should stir the manager and his team.
In fact, the Portsmouth defeat will have given the manager a lot to think about ahead of this weekend’s match at the Stadium of Light.
A lacklustre showing at Fratton Park will undoubtedly have the manager plotting how he can generate an improved performance, and with several new additions to the side, Phil Parkinson might well think about tinkering with his line up and tactical approach.
A nasty knock to the head will likely see Joel Lynch miss several games - but will Parkinson choose Flanagan or Ozturk to come back into the side?
Sunderland lacked the stability and no-nonsense approach that Ozturk brings to the pitch - aerially he makes a huge difference, too. Sunderland arguably needed the gritty tenacity afforded by Ozturk at the weekend - as such it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Dutch-born defender back in the heart of Sunderland’s defence this weekend.
Ahead of him, in the centre of Sunderland’s midfield, Phil Parkinson might also tinker with his midfield pivots. Max Power has shown some excellent leadership in recent weeks, but his partner in the middle, George Dobson, might be given a rest as new signing Josh Scowen could be tasked with providing the mettle and spark missing from the side’s play in the last couple of games.
In attack, there are questions to be asked as to how Sunderland want to adapt. The pace and trickery of Antoine Semenyo will provide another option for Parkinson’s gameplan; however, the main issue plaguing Sunderland’s play is their striking options.
Charlie Wyke has struggled to show consistency to his game while new signing Kyle Lafferty is still getting up to speed. And then what of Will Grigg? Sunderland aren’t blessed with striking options, so could the former Wigan man be handed the olive branch of redemption?
The character of Sunderland's squad will be tested over the course of the next three games, and so too will the quality of the side’s new signings.
In recent weeks the Lads have played some nice football, but the key to constant success is the ability to adapt. Sunderland now need to adapt in order to ensure that their search for promotion doesn’t fall flat after what has been a promising few weeks.
The loss away to Portsmouth will test the resolve of Parkinson’s men, but should they recover from this dip in recent form, the squad might well point to this defeat as the game that laid the foundations for the rest of their season.