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Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One

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Two Up, Two Down: What are the biggest positives and negatives to take from Sunderland’s performance?

It was a hard earned three points with plenty of talking points as we discuss the positives and negatives of our win at Gillingham!

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Rich Speight says...


Thorben Hoffmann securing the points. We need the whole squad to step up this season and put in match-winning performances when other aspects of the game are not going to plan. Hoffmann was ultimately the difference between us getting three points or one on Saturday, and it’s saves like that worldie towards the end of the match that will be crucial at the end of the season. Echos of Shay Given and Thomas Sorenson. Sehr Gut, Torwart.

Dan Neil. There’s not much more that you can say about the kid, to be honest, that hasn’t already been said. When he’s got the ball at his feat he makes things happen. His skill, his quality in delivery, his ability to create space for himself - it all suggests a player with a huge future in the game. Like everyone else, I’m just longing for that tweet announcing “Neil 2025” to drop.


We are allowing teams to bully us at times. There are no easy points in this division, and whilst we’re clearly more technically gifted and proficient than the vast majority of sides we’ll face in league one, we sometimes appear naive when it comes to those elements of the game that require controlled aggression and a bit of nouse.

We don’t get in the face of the ref enough - and at this level we’ve seen how other sides can sway decisions by unsettling the officials. Gillingham were always going to make our lives difficult, but for periods of the game we looked like we were being bullied physically by a strong, powerful, and committed Gills side. Thankfully, in the end, two quality deliveries, some top goalkeeping, and a bit of bravery proved the difference.

What is it about the starting XI and not taking a knee in solidarity against racism? We saw the youngsters be roundly applauded when they made the gesture in the week, the Lasses do so before every game with a supportive reaction from the crowd... but the men’s senior side stand around looking awkward while the idiot element in our away support boos the opposition.

It absolutely should be an individual choice about whether and how players chose to show their support for anti-racism campaigns - but at the minute it appears to be really random rather and inconsistent across the different squads and, to be frank, a little embarrassing when we have an almost entirely white starting eleven mulling around as teams featuring numerous black players take a knee.

Clarity, consistency, and solidarity are the watchwords here. We have no access to the players or the manager to actually find out the reasoning behind this, so maybe it’s time our erstwhile colleagues in the press pack ask a question or two?

Sunderland v Accrington Stanley - Sky Bet League One
Thorben Hoffman was man of the match for Sunderland at Gillingham for many people
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Tom Albrighton says...


Hoffmann again saves the day. Yesterday was definitely a moment when Hoffmann finally got the recognition he deserves and an arguably match-winning performance is a wonderful time to do so. Since his arrival, he has been assured, calm and collected - all things you expect to find in a top-quality keeper.

Hoffmann was an integral part in securing 3 points and has offered good value for others in recent times. They say a good keeper can be worth 10 points a season, but with at least 4 to his name, Hoffmann could well be our missing piece of the jigsaw

A side that can win ugly and when they aren’t at their best is a side that challenges for titles. Just ask Sir Alex Ferguson. Sunderland we’re sub-par for the opening 45 and a second-half period of dominance was capped with Embleton’s sending off. Despite this Sunderland hunkered down and ground out what could prove to be a crucial win. In the past these are games we’d have meekly surrendered points in, so to see a side not panic and dig in to get a result even when they aren’t at their best is a fine sight to see - even if the football isn’t always pleasing


Another poor performance from O’Nien. It’s not only dividing opinion but must surely be giving Lee Johnson a selection headache, let alone giving Sunderland fans some genuine concern. Of all the ’core’ players, O’Nien is looking arguably the weakest, and if his form doesn’t improve he could well find himself out of the starting XI entirely. For now, a lengthy injury list and Embleton’s incumbent suspension will keep O’Nien in the side, but there’s a strong case for him to not feature in a full-strength set-up should our mini injury crisis subside.

Embleton’s red card. To me it wasn’t a red and never will be so long as football is a contact sport. That given, with the EFL’s track record of backing their useless officials to the hilt, I can’t see it being overturned. Not only did it rob Sunderland of a chance to put the game to bed, it also exerted additional energy from an already threadbare side.

Given the injury list and lack of options in the because of this, Embleton being suspended for any length of time is absolutely not ideal. The solution will likely be a change in formation or shuffling players into less familiar positions. Whilst we have a big squad at our disposal, we’re now nearing our limit before injuries start to hamper our progress.

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Aiden O’Brien celebrating putting us back on level terms
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Kelvin Beattie says...


A very ugly win. This was a game that we would probably have drawn or lost in the last couple of seasons. I would not want to watch this every week, but get a kind of perverse enjoyment out of an occasional ugly win, it takes a bit of dogged grit and resilience to dig these type of wins out, we appear to be developing these capacities. It was hard fought victory with plaudits to Hoffman, Flano and Cirkin for a real gritty display in defence.

Tom Flanagan. What a good professional goal by Flano, a good cross was well put away by the most improved player at the club for my money. He capped his goal with a real backs to the wall performance in defence, 9 out of 10 for me.


Embleton’s red card could hit us hard. I did not think he was having his best game, and his frustration may have led to the tackle. Watched on replay his feet were not high so maybe a chance at appeal?

Steve Evans. Am I the only fan that cannot stand the childish antics and bluster of “cry baby Evans”? He absolutely does my head in. His antics must be a distraction to his own players, never mind the opposition. He is the worst kind of example of how not to behave on the touchline.

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Steve Evans doing ‘Steve Evans’ things...
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Michael Dunne says...


A good ugly win with ten men yesterday is something we probably haven’t been too good at in previous years but this certainly seems to be a different Sunderland. We showed character and grit to hold on and get the win especially when the performance was not too impressive. It gives you confidence to think that we can get over the line and win these games as the season goes on. There is no doubt that there will be more occasions like this.

Leaders standing up again. No one has shown this more than Tom Flanagan this season. I still find it incredible how this guy has turned his Sunderland career around. He has gone from a squad player to probably being one of the most important players in our team. His header was fantastic yesterday and putting his body on the line like that shows how engrossed he is in the clubs mission of promotion this season.


Embleton’s red card was a shocker and I don’t think we can have too many excuses. It was just unfortunately very late. Embleton showed determination to try and win the ball but he just didn’t get the timing right. These things happen. The more disappointing thing is that we have so many injuries in the wide positions now with no Dajaku, McGeady or Gooch available. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Will Harris get a start.

Away form concerns. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic but the past two away games, Sunderland have looked out of sorts somewhat. Let’s hope it is just a blip and not something more than that. It is only two league games ago that we hammered Cheltenham but it is seen with the amount of injuries we are having, our squad is getting stretched and performances are suffering somewhat.

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Elliot Embleton walks off after being shown the red card
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images


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