Sunderland stood strong against a physical side in difficult circumstances yesterday – how important was it to prove that the Portsmouth collapse was just a one-off?
When Sunderland were embarrassed by Portsmouth earlier this month, many fans were naturally concerned about our side's resilience and questioned if another “streaky-Lee” esque collapse would occur.
Yesterday Lee Johnson’s faced a highly physical and direct Gillingham side, but despite going down to ten men with 20 minutes remaining, the lads battled incredibly well and left the Priestfield Stadium with all three points.
Thorben Hoffmann was composed in goal, pulling off a string of fantastic saves and the partnership of Tom Flanagan and Callum Doyle was able to withstand an aerial bombardment.
This Sunderland side proved that they can dig deep and protect leads. If we are going to compete for the title, it is simply imperative that this team are confident in not allowing their opponents to snatch points.
On a day where our bench was filled with inexperienced youth and we were missing crucial players such as Aiden McGeady and Lynden Gooch, the lads picked up a hugely important three points – which was vital, given all of our promotion rivals won, too.
Since the Fratton Park thrashing, Sunderland have won all three games in all competitions. The goal now has to be to beat Crewe on Tuesday to help get the players on a winning run and restore the confidence that we were thriving on.
Yesterday’s game is one you look back on at the end of a season and realise just how crucial holding on for the win actually was.
Elliot Embleton naively and needlessly lunged in - was it a red card?
Before this debate commences, I think it is important to state that Elliot Embleton should never have made this challenge in the first place.
Sunderland were 2-1 up and had just regained control, so there absolutely no need for the 22-year-old to go flying in in the middle of the pitch for a loose ball. He put his teammates under incredible and unnecessary pressure that was entirely preventable. It was a naive decision, but one which I’m sure he will learn from.
In terms of the tackle itself, would that have been a red without the crowd reaction and players surrounding the referee? It was a lunge with intent and was late, but it was very low.
Watching it live I agreed with Danny Collins that it was a yellow, especially given how lenient the referee had been with other fouls, but in modern football you do see red cards given for similar tackles where the players is deemed to be reckless and out of control.
When you sprint in and fly in how Embleton did you always give the referee a decision to make, but if ten referees had to judge that tackle I’m not convinced each one would produce a red card.
Thorben Hoffmann impressed once again, isn’t it fantastic that Sunderland have resolved their goalkeeping issue?
What a sight it was to see our German goalkeeper fly across his goal to tip that header onto the post!
After a long pre-season of endless debating around whether Sunderland should start Lee Burge, Anthony Patterson, or sign a new goalkeeper, it seems we now have an exciting option who is improving game by game as he settles into English football.
Whether it is charging out to sweep the ball up, launching counter attacks with his excellent kicking and throwing range, or producing stunning saves, Thorben Hoffmann has been a breath of fresh air and is a class above Sunderland’s other goalkeeping options.
No matter what level you’re playing at, it is crucial that the manager/players/fans have faith in the team’s goalkeeper and I think on-loan Bayern Munich stopper is earning that trust through his performances.
As with the likes of Callum Doyle and Dennis Cirkin, whoever scouted Hoffmann deserves enormous credit as he has been an excellent signing so far. This is a brilliant time to remind Sunderland fans that we have a permanent clause in his deal should we achieve promotion.
With Embleton suspended and many players out injured, who should come in on Tuesday against Crewe?
On a day that was mostly positive, one negative that arose from yesterday’s victory is that Embleton will now be missing for three matches and it adds to Sunderland’s endless list of unavailable players.
Lee Johnson expressed his frustration on this matter and claimed it is unlikely that anyone will return for Tuesday’s match against Crewe, so will come in?
There are several different options here, but none are straight forward and Johnson would have to move players around if he wants to keep experienced heads involved.
The most like-for-like option would be 20-year-old Stephen Wearne, who recently scored two goals in two games for the first-team in the EFL Trophy. The ex-Middlesbrough midfielder was our stand out player against Manchester United reserves and seems to be hot on confidence.
The issue with bringing him in is that it would be another inexperienced player in a team that is already full of youthful inexperienced heads. Having said that, Callum Doyle had not played a senior game before and he is thriving.
Johnson could bring in Bailey Wright and move to a five-back system, but he has been off form and it would mean a switch away from the manager’s preferred starting formations.
Should Johnson feel starting Wearne is a risk and that he wants to keep a similar system in place, he could start Denver Hume further forward at left-midfield in front of Cirkin, but he has only just returned from a long-term injury so that is just as risky.
The exciting decision would be to start the in-form Wearne, but I think it is more likely that Wright will come in - what would you do?