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Sunderland v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet League One

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Two Up, Two Down: What were the big positives & negatives from SAFC 2-1 Plymouth?

Worst referee ever? Possibly. Gary Bennett on the radio said the man in the middle ruined the game – but there were plenty of positives too that the ref couldn’t affect... even if he tried his best.

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Tom Albrighton says…

Two up

  1. The frenetic start to the first half simply blew away Argyle, who didn’t know what had hit them. 2-0 inside 15 minutes and a strong argument that come half time it perhaps should have been double is exactly the way Sunderland should be starting games. The pace, precision and power of Sunderland’s attacking play while being steely and resilient at the back got the Stadium of Light crowd fully with the side. With the crowd on their side Sunderland were dragged through a more nervy second half, which was a just reward for a blistering start.

2. Pritchard’s rise to prominence within the Sunderland side justifies the gamble taken by the club and lays to bed and concerns around how much we are or are not spending on players. In a league where spending fortunes doesn’t always make a winning side, Pritchard’s performances, which have been a level above in recent weeks, shows with good scouting, coaching and a healthy dose of patience, players otherwise written off can thrive at Sunderland. Who’d have thought that eh?

Two down

1. The referee... again. It’s a running theme but by Lord it’s wearing thin. Blatant fouls blatantly missed, soft fouls given and a sharpshooters arm whenever it came to cards – no wonder Johnson was again incensed. The steady stream of sub-standard officials continues to flow and if the EFL were even remotely fit for purpose (lol) they would be taking a long hard look at who is on their books. There are non-league referees who can’t get a chance ahead of these clowns.

2. Erm, that’s it’s really. We were just dead good on Saturday, and Plymouth can count themselves lucky they were still in the game at half time before injury and a lack of bodies dictated a change in shape.

Sunderland v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet League One
Clowns usually wear a red nose. This one wore a ref’s outfit
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

SAFCMerch says…

Two up

1. We’re in good shape. Sunderland barely put a foot wrong in the first half and despite Plymouth Argyle having more possession, Hoffman had nothing to do. We were electric with the ball and without it we held our shape really well. Pritchard in particular was excellent at forcing a high press, and while we often managed to get the thing back we stayed calm when we didn’t. Lads held their positions well and were regularly forcing Plymouth sideways or backwards. Things changed in the second half, possibly because of the amount of switches caused by Gooch going off, and we had to show a different type of defending, but we still worked as a unit. Players were throwing themselves into tackles and blocks, and winning plenty of headers, but at the heart of it all was real organisation and structure.

2. We were in control. It might seem like a little thing, but we are regularly showing flashes of real technique and close control and I noticed it a few times here. There’s a few players that can twist and turn in tight spaces and then you’ve got players like Dajaku that can take down high balls with one touch, and Broadhead who is brilliant when he has his back to goal and uses his chest. Over the course of 90 minutes those touches of quality can make a difference against less able sides.

2 down

1. Does Ross have a knock? I don’t know if I was seeing something that wasn’t there, but it has looked to me this week that Stewart is playing with an injury. It isn’t a criticism of him as he has still been putting a shift in and is vital to how we play, but I thought there were a couple of instances were he looked uncomfortable and as if it was taking him a split second longer to manoeuvre. We’ve got a rare week off now so hopefully he gets to have a rest because he could have a big bearing on us going up.

2. Lee’s in the book. This isn’t that bad a thing actually, but after such an entertaining afternoon and a brilliant day for the Soup Kitchen appeal I was left struggling to find much to be upset by. Johnson was booked again and somehow in a division with so many managers acting themselves he seems to be the one getting a reputation with referees. I’d rather he was taking the yellows than the players and that is perhaps something Johnson himself feels as he could probably tell the ref was losing control. Assuming he hasnt crossed a line of course I like seeing him stand up for his team and I think the fans latched onto that sense of ‘us against the world’ because the noise cranked up again afterwards. There was a bit of push and shove towards the end as well and it was class seeing the players backing each other up. My only fear with these things is that there is a fine line and I don’t want future officials overseeing our games with a predetermined idea that we are difficult and giving us even less calls than they do now.

Sunderland v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet League One
Is Ross carrying an injury?
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Kelvin Beattie says…

Two up

1. Attack Attack Attack! Two different but none the less exquisite goals to get the crowd right behind the team. Pritchard’s pass to Dajaku for Broadhead’s goal was like a throwback to the silky Kevin Arnott days, slide rule, right on the button. Broadhead’s movement and quick thinking was top draw too. Then a well worked corner routine, and it feels like it has been an age since one of these has come off. From my perch in the South West corner I felt like I had the perfect view as the net bulged as the old fella (yes even older than me) lost his false teeth in the aftermath excitement. What was particularly pleasing for me, was our offensive play was coming from all parts of the pitch and to echo a point already made, we could very easily have been 4-0 up at half-time, with little complaint from Plymouth.

2. Deeeefence! The second half was a different ball game. We saw why Plymouth are where they are in the league. I felt we rose well to the challenge, with solid defensive work from Wright, Flanagan and Winchester and a couple of good saves and steady distribution from Hoffman. LJ and his team have clearly worked effectively with the squad to make us harder to beat, whilst maintaining our attacking threat. Despite Plymouth coming in to the game in the 2nd half, we might have scored two or three more goals and had a couple of vociferous shouts for penalties ( though I was not in the best seat to judge the validity of these).

Two very pleasing halves of football with first offence then defence to the fore.

Two down

1. Injuries continue. Gooch (who had another good half) did not emerge for the second half, we can only guess that it was injury that triggered this. Winchester moved to right wing back and played effectively, but was really missed from our midfield. He has quietly impressed over the last few weeks since his return to the middle. His tracking of runners, marking and disruptive challenging and tackling has been cracking. I feel he gives Neil, Pritchard et al licence to get forward with confidence. That said his galloping forays deep into opposition territory are great to watch, he is clearly enjoying his football and getting the crowd too. Lets hope Gooch’s injury is not too bad, both players deserve an extended run. A point made by a previous writer on this piece is a concern re Ross Stewart. I would share this concern, he has looked like he is carrying a niggle. Now I am not sure if this is my anxiety about injuries generally and how light we look up front if you take Stewart and Broadhead out of the picture, but hopefully a week with no game will the help bodies heal that need to.

2. The view of other fans… It might seem a bit nippy to be raising this after such a good performance and result, but I had a grand craic with a couple of Plymouth fans as I was walking around the stadium. One of the things they touched upon was the view abroad, that if you can get at Sunderland early at the SoL, the crowd will turn very quickly on the team! I was a bit shocked and definitely disappointed at what came across as a commonly known fact… “our fans turn on our team quickly if things do not go our way”! Thankfully there was very little evidence of this, as the crowd lapped up our first half performance and then pitched in to do “our job” in the second half, with sustained and loud vocal support. We have a job to do, especially when the team have their backs to the wall. To a man the team responded to this support yesterday, let’s keep that going for the rest of the season! A good day all round, with a cracking match on the pitch and lots of positive activity around the stadium.

Sunderland v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet League One
Man in form
Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says…

Two up

1. Goals and quality from all over the park. Those two goals in the first 15 minutes were a level above the football we usually see in this league. And one of our main strikers didn’t even get on the scoreboard! The way we are creating and scoring goals from all sorts of positions and methods is inspiring. It is very easy when you have a 6 ft 5 inch striker and so many injuries to go long and go high, but we didn’t, and my goodness wasn’t that first 20 minutes a joy too watch?

2. Determination. Yes we made a problem for ourselves a little by letting them get their tails up with a preventable goal, but our guts and determination was a sight to behold. We didn’t just sit back either, we defended with more attacking, and O’Brien should have scored in the second period to take the pressure off, but he couldn’t beat a retreating defender to an empty net. Great resilience and strength, which in previous seasons we haven’t seen enough of. And the coach got another yellow cos he loves his job, his club and his team. Will he beat Cattermole’s yellow record for a season? He’s having a good go! Well done lads.

Two down

1. Yet another occasion when the officials have embarrassed the badge they wore. What a joke. Since when has a blend of judo throwing and WWE wrestling constituted a legal challenge in association football? Our lads had them on toast all over the attacking third, so they resorted to physical tactics with obstruction and blatant man handling, and the officials did nothing about it. Spineless and woefully inconsistent refereeing. Thank god we still got all three points. I hope the ref gets sacked through game reviews with the EFL, it truly was that bad.

2. We let in a bit of a soft goal which gave Plymouth and their fans something to shout about and some hope they could pinch a point. They didn’t deserve a draw but we gave them a sniff of one. I’d be less worried during the game if we had already nailed the third goal and the points, but a slight negative in terms of game management blighted a very good day.

Sunderland v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet League One
Disappointing to concede
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Joseph Tulip says…

Two up

1. A new type of hunger. I saw something against Plymouth that I’ve rarely witnessed since the days of Peter Reid. Right from the off we weren’t just on the attack and in the faces of our opposition, we showed a remarkable desire to keep Argyle boxed in their own half during that first 45 minutes. We were great in possession, but off the ball, we fought like tigers to regain in, if Pritchard or Broadhead didn’t win it high up the pitch, you could bet your life Winchester, Gooch or Wright would be next in line to back them up, much to the delight of the crowd.

2. A new attack. We’ve been unlucky to lose Aiden McGeady to injury, just a few months after last season’s top scorer Charlie Wyke and another former key man Chris Maguire left the club. Now with Lynden Gooch deployed at left back, we have a whole new impressive forward line, with Nathan Broadhead, Alex Pritchard and Leon Dajaku taking our attacking play to a new level in recent games, suitably supported by Dan Neil and protected by Carl Winchester. Ross Stewart has also been superb.

Two down

1. It was a strange game in that after 15 minutes, it looked as though Plymouth were heading for the same fate we bestowed upon Morecambe just four days earlier. Plymouth are a far better side, and their ability to claw themselves back into the contest proved that. But at 2-0 we perhaps should have killed the game off.

2. The poor pitch. It is midwinter and the weather hasn’t been great, but the pitch was as heavy as we’ve seen in some time at the SoL. Credit to the Lads for the ever evolving nature of our exciting attacking play, though – especially the close knit passing, the quick interplay, delightful flicks, super quick counter attacks and switches of play, which were really are something to behold.


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