Andrew Smithson says...
Show of strength. We were much harder to play against, and more physical in defence. It manifested itself in a few bookings, but given how easy it has been to score against recently us it was great to see. I also liked watching Bailey Wright standing his ground after some sort of scuffle in front of the Roker End - we need to show more of that spirit in some situations.
Tinkerman! I thought Lee Johnson’s starting XI, in-game changes and substitutions made a lot of sense. The boss moved a few players around and it is great that the likes of Carl Winchester and Lynden Gooch can switch positions during the match and still contribute. I also think that bringing Aiden McGeady and Leon Dajaku on from the bench is the best way to utilise them at the moment.
Shot shy Sunderland... I sometimes wish we would take a few more potshots in tight games. I know players don't want to waste possession, and when things are not going your way they might be even more hesitant, but you could catch a keeper off guard or get a deflection if you have a dig and an effort on goal it will always lift the tempo and get the crowd going. I can’t really complain too much as we got the points and there is a lot to be said for winning when not at your best, but the more we test opposition keepers the better for me.
Crowd grumbles... I had to think about this for a while, as in the main I’m chuffed we showed some bottle and stopped the rot. I’m aware too that a lot has already been said recently about certain sections of the crowd, and that some people may ask who am I to question others, but the behaviour of one or two continues to puzzle me. In the past, people would say that as long as the Lads put the effort in they’d be backed, but I’m not so sure that is the case for everyone. Despite us getting stuck in throughout there were still some individuals booing at points, and twisting at misplaced passes. I know it was a scrappy game and that some want to see a different type of match, but it was always going to be attritional and you couldn’t fault the effort at all. There were also plenty of early leavers again and that seems harsh on a team that has some flaws, but showed a bit of character. I know there are those with genuine reason to need to beat the traffic or whatever and people are entitled to do what they want, but it makes little sense to me. Our current squad is far removed from the chancers of previous eras and it was great to hear a lot of the grumbling being drowned out by vocal support for the side, it just seems a shame to me that not everybody was behind them for the full 90.
Malc Dugdale says...
Three points were secured! It may not have been the most convincing of performances, but after losing three in a row it was of utmost importance to firstly not lose, and then ideally to get a win. We created enough chances to get something out of the game and nudging that to a 2-0 win against a decent team in the top ten is very welcome.
The redemption of Luke! As time passes I am more and more convinced that Luke O’Nien is a defender with abilities useful in midfield, and even in attack, rather than a midfielder of the future at this level or above. He played well and got a scrappy goal which set us on the way. Maybe he (and the rest of us) needs to accept his place is at the back pushing forward, not in the middle of the park. We know we will need him at the back for a while, so it’s great to see him doing a job yet again.
Flatness. We were very flat at times, and if it weren’t for a great triple save by The Hoff we would have likely lost that game after going behind, struggling to get back into it. Our tendency to be flat and to let the opponents build from midfield was again evident, and we need to kill that off and get back to our pressing and attacking selves, as we saw at times, to really build back to the early season highs.
Yet another clown of a ref. If there is ever an incentive to get out of League One, Saturday was another episode. We got nothing on several occasions when we should have, and then we got a penalty nobody shouted for. Winners win ugly at times, and we needed that, and to win even when the ref seemed to be a major Tractor Boys fan was doubly welcome. Seriously, though - I can’t wait to see the back of these muppets. I’m just totally over them all. Had enough. They are shite.
Matt Smith says...
Plugging the leaks. After shipping an alarming 8 goals in our last two league games, it would be surprising if Johnson and his coaching staff hadn’t spent the international break attempting to instil greater defensive discipline and bite throughout the team. Much as we’ve enjoyed the free-flowing attacking play of the early season, this was a game for restoring confidence in our defensive shape and resilience. To come away with a relatively comfortable clean sheet should restore some confidence to fans and players alike, as well as planting seeds of doubt in opponents’ game plans of exploiting perceived weaknesses.
Options from the bench. In an attritional game the likes of which we can expect to see quite often, being able to call upon the (undoubted, albeit inconsistent) talent of McGeady, Pritchard and Dajaku offers opportunities that aren’t available to many sides at this level. The involvement of two of these three in securing an unlikely three points is a credit not only to their game-changing abilities, but also in Johnson’s canny deployment of such armoury.
Striking the right balance. Although Saturday’s game showed some of the qualities that have been lacking in recent weeks, there were few signs of a return to the attacking qualities that were so much in evidence earlier in the season. In a game where rebuilding confidence in the defensive basics was paramount, it was always likely that attacking instincts would be sacrificed to achieve this goal. Yet it’s hard to see a route to automatic promotion without unleashing the creative flair of the likes of Neil and Embleton. Finding the right balance between a streetwise League One approach and exploiting the youthful talent at our disposal will be the task of the coming weeks but this at least provides the base from which to make the right steps in that direction.
Light in the middle. For all the creative talent in Sunderland’s midfield, we seem to lack what has often been in abundance in previous sides: a combative midfielder to retain possession. In the past, we’ve had a lengthy roll call of players able to perform this position (Ball, Cattermole etc) without others to fully exploit it. Currently, we rely on either O’Nien or Evans to perform this role and neither are doing so convincingly or consistently enough. Finding the perfect foil to allow Neil and Embleton to shine may require remedial action in January, unless Winchester proves adept in such a role on Huggins’ return to full back duties.