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Talking Points: Win gets Sunderland back on track, but it wasn’t all plain sailing

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After last weekend’s disappointment it was vital – even at this early stage of the season – that Phil Parkinson’s men picked up all three points at Oxford. Here are our key talking points.

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Leila Coker/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Team selection: Lack of youngsters continues to frustrate

First things first, team selection. Grigg’s demotion to the bench was incredibly disappointing, as was Scowen’s continued splinter-inducing spell at the club. I’ll come onto both of these players later.

More concerning for me is the absence of Neil and Diamond, who were stars of the preseason, and were mentioned by Parkinson as one of the reasons behind moving McGeady on. They offer something we don’t have in the first team - pace, attacking intent and incisive passing - but they failed to make the bench once again.

With the exodus of youngsters we’ve witnessed over the past couple of seasons it’s doubly frustrating we’re not giving these lads minutes from the bench at least. If this continues, they’ll be the next out of the door, and smacks of continued short-term thinking.

Sunderland v Notts County: Checkatrade Trophy
Jack Diamond - frustratingly isn’t being given an opportunity to shine
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Another dire first half – but far better second

The first half of the game against Oxford was horrendous. After an okay opening 10-15 minutes, we relied on aimless long balls and up to an ineffective Danny Graham, or tried to spring the wing-backs into the corners.

Although we hit the bar, Oxford probably had the best two chances of the first half. It was one of the worst halves of football we’ve played in League One.

Whatever was said at half time worked, however. We were a completely different team. We kept the ball, moved well off it, and passed it about intelligently. O’Nien’s composed finish was a rare moment of quality up to that point, but from there Sunderland dominated.

O’Brien missed a sitter, and we should and could have been three up before Gooch’s goal – which deserved a higher stage and was reminiscent of Gabbiadini in his pomp – sealed victory.

Why we insist on playing a more direct game when it’s evident the players are much more comfortable keeping the ball, is baffling, however.

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Gooch’s strike was an early goal of the season contender
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Bailey Wright the rock

Wright showed quality in his loan spell earlier this year, and after a dodgy game last week showed his class this time round.

He’s added stability and leadership in the back three, and alongside Willis is certainly among the best centre backs in the league. Some robust challenges typified his performance on the pitch he suffered a season ending injury last time out.

Flanagan was steady alongside, however his passing is a continual weakness.

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Wright’s added a lot to the team
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Forward line still a problem

All is not rosy, of course. Aside from the style of first half play, the forward line just isn’t working. Dropping Grigg was a poor call by Parkinson. He’s the only truly proven scorer we have, looked good in preseason and against Hull, and should be persevered with.

O’Brien has looked poor, and Danny Graham was absolutely anonymous yesterday.

Figuring out whether we go two up or one up, and getting those combinations clicking, is hugely important. Wyke and Gooch in their cameo appearances did much more than the men they replaced, and it would be no surprise to see the two of them line up from the start next week, as Parkinson reverts back to last season’s preferred formation and line up, barring the suspended Dobson.

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Graham was anonymous, and offered little to our forward line.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Special mention for Leadbitter

Personally, Grant had a hard time last season and with Scowen expected to be named as Dobson’s replacement many – including myself – were disappointed to see Leadbitter get the nod. Grant did well, though. Bar a couple of wayward knocks his passing was okay, and he made some good tackles as Oxford attempted to get an equaliser.

Scowen, whose career to date suggests he’d bring improvement to our midfield, looked eager to impress when he came on. Tidy on the ball, he got his head up early and looked to play the ball forward. This dynamism is missing from our current midfield, and I really hope we see him starting next week, when there will be more onus on us to take the game to the opposition.

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Leadbitter played an important role, and can offer. something this season
Photo by Leila Coker/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Back on track

After the disappointment of last Saturday’s result, an away victory - and clean sheet - against a team expected to be one of the promotion challengers is a great response.

We need to be consistently averaging 2 points per game to get automatic promotion, and yesterday got us back on track.

Regardless of the first half performance it was a cracking three points, and sets us up nicely for next weekend, when we’ll hopefully take full advantage.

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Parkinson’s got to keep us close to that 2 points per game mark
Photo by Leila Coker/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

And finally... White tucked in shirt, jumper tied around the waist and white trainers simply does not work

Oxford’s managed Karl Robinson’s always an ‘interesting’ fella.

From his hilariously blinkered post match interviews to his sartorial elegance, he certainly adds an element of intrigue and curiosity to proceedings. On Saturday, he’d crowbarred his rotundness into a stylish white shirt, worn tucked in, with a jumper casually tied around his midriff. White trainers topped off the look, which hopefully will not become part of anyone’s match day attire. Give me a manager in a club tracksuit any day.

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Oxford’s part-time style guru did it again
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images