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Honduras v Australia - 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers Playoff

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Sunderland’s continuous international window dilemma - should we play or postpone games?

Should we be automatically postponing games for which our international players will be missing, or should we just get on with it to avoid a fixture pile-up?

Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images

What a start it has been to the season for Sunderland, and everyone involved with it.

The club has put itself in a strong position early doors - Lee Johnson’s men have set the tone for the season, and an abundance of players have stepped up.

This is all, of course, positive.

Not only are their talents and performances being recognised by fans and teams in this league and beyond, but international recognition and speculation has also been garnered.

Many of our players are now likely to become regular members in their respective international setups - the likes of Dennis Cirkin, Niall Huggins, Callum Doyle, Bailey Wright, Tom Flanagan, Carl Winchester and Corry Evans have all been called up for their countries this season.

Sunderland v Bolton Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

Furthermore, the superb performances by Ross Stewart have also led to speculation that Steve Clarke will give him an opportunity sooner rather than later.

In the last two international windows, the number of players called up (who tend to be mostly defenders) led to Sunderland’s clash away to Sheffield Wednesday and this weekend’s game with Oxford being postponed. Next month’s Lincoln game at home will likely follow the same pattern.

Whilst it is always a positive to see the club's players being called up to play for their country, the club and fans alike have had to learn to deal with the last-minute cancellations and the egregious congested fixture pile-up that will doubtlessly occur.

The question must be posed as to whether this is actually positive or negative. Should the club just play these games without their international players? Or are they doing the right thing by postponing?

The answer is probably the latter.

Northern Ireland v USA - International Friendly Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images

As you look at our squad, and the players that will be called up, it is incredible to see how literally all of Sunderland’s central defensive options are almost wiped out.

With it being very likely that we’ll continue to see our top four options away on international duty (Flanagan, Doyle, Wright and Alves), it is easy to understand why these games do not go ahead.

Who would step in?! Luke O’Nien partnering an inexperienced defender such as Oliver Younger at the back for next weekend’s game with Oxford, perhaps?

Sunderland could have compensated for the loss of Dennis Cirkin at full-back, with Denver Hume available to replace him. We’d also remain reasonably untouched further up the pitch.

It is not inconceivable to suggest that Sunderland would probably still win the majority of these matches - but it’s just impossible to think Lee Johnson would leave himself that short-handed.

From this writer’s perspective, there becomes an added pressure with the extra games piling up - notwithstanding the complete disregard it has for fans who are attempting to arrange their travel for games a week out.

Sunderland fans have witnessed the disadvantages that this brings. We have been here before in the past couple of seasons - most prominently in the Jack Ross era. It is still remembered with great disappointment that the team completely faltered in the latter stages, failing to take advantage of the abundance of games in hand they had that would have secured automatic promotion.

An expectancy grows amongst fans that these games are just a formality. The opposite actually tends to be the case. This increases pressure on management and players alike as the majority of their rivals have likely already had their games played.

The facts are that points on the board are the much better option. Momentum is a strong asset. That is something international windows break up. It truly is a double-edged sword.

That being said, there is nothing we can do about it. Sunderland’s defeat against Portsmouth indicated the importance of a fully fit squad. It appears the club have made the right decision in relation to next weekend’s game.

As we enter another international window, we wish the best of luck to our international lads, but maybe drop the performances a little so you are not picked in future!


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