We won comfortably without really getting out of third gear – just how much more is there to come from this team?
Last night’s win had an air of a promotion-winning team - turn up to an away game, dispatch the opposition with relative ease without really hitting top gear.
Yes, Crewe had a couple of chances, but the win never looked in doubt. It was a professional display, and probably one where the team was a greater sum of its parts.
There were a lot of 8 out of 10 performances, and the rest were 7s, and that consistency is immensely promising.
We’ve progressed considerably in a year, and you get the sense there’s a lot, lot more to come from this team. I’m enjoying watching us play at the minute, and it’s been a few seasons since any of us could genuinely say that.
We are starting to see the real Alex Pritchard – and he could be instrumental
Alex Pritchard’s been sidelined for much of his Sunderland career so far, but we’re beginning to see just what he brings to the party – and it’s been worth the wait.
He’s got an intelligence to his play that you rarely see at this level. He was prompting and probing, looked inventive, and wanted to get on the ball and make things happen.
He’s the sort of player – much like Dan Neil, who I’ll come on to – who needs the ball, and when we get him on the ball he can make things happen for us.
Hopefully he was withdrawn as a precaution, rather than due to any sort of serious injury.
The reason for signing a new goalkeeper is becoming abundantly clear
A number of people questioned the need to sign a new keeper during the summer, but Thorben Hoffmann’s performances show just why it was so important.
An excellent goalkeeper wins you points, and Hoffmann’s doing just that. That’s not to say we wouldn’t have won the game last night with Burge in goal – we were on another level to them – but without Hoffmann in nets Crewe would likely have gotten a goal at 2-0, and that really would have changed the complexion of the game.
Saves like that breed confidence throughout the team, and Hoffmann’s contribution did just that. It was brilliant to see him get a clean sheet, too – it was well deserved.
And it was important we got a clean sheet
The lack of clean sheets this season has, in my view, been really overstated by some people. Factually it’s correct, of course, we’ve not kept as many clean sheets as we’d have liked, and promotion campaigns are built on a solid defence.
But scratch the surface and you see a combination of excellent goals, a couple of deflections and a couple of individual errors – our relative lack of clean sheets isn’t not something that’s caused by poor setup, or poor defending collectively.
Defensively, we stood up to the challenge Crewe posed, and with Hoffmann excelling it seems we’ve got a great foundation on which to build.
Game-changing options off the bench, even with an injury crisis
Our squad’s been stretched to pretty much its limit over the past few weeks, but how nice is it to see the options we have to genuinely change the game?
Dajaku’s cameo demonstrated just that – his goal was the perfect illustration of this.
Having that pace off the bench (or, frankly, in the team) isn’t something we’ve been used to, and with the likes of Gooch and Embleton still to come back in it’s exciting to see the options we have to change the game.
Dan Neil continues to do Dan Neil things
We’ve heard whispers about a new contract being on the cards for Dan Neil, and let’s hope that’s true, because this lad is an absolute star.
Never mind ‘star in the making’ he’s there already. He controlled the game throughout; his all-round play was exquisite, demonstrated with style with his cross for Stewart’s first.
Credit too, to his midfield partner O’Nien, whose relentless defensive efforts in closing down and winning the ball back created space for Neil to play.
This is a Premier League player in the making – hopefully he gets there with us.
He’s someone who I’d like to see named as part of the leadership group at the club next season, too. Not only would it cement him as part of the future of the club, but it would be brilliant for the academy youngsters to see someone who was in their boots only a couple of seasons ago as a key figure in the football leadership.