There was a popular meme tweet circulating towards the back end of last season.
The graphic read: “Get the ball > pass to McGeady > did he score or assist? > yes - Haway the lads, no - restart process.”
There’s no reasonable way to expect a player to carry quite a heavy load over a full season, but Geads very rarely let us down. The hope at the beginning of the season was if given a whole campaign to work, and if deployed correctly, he might have a historically good season.
However, his season started with a splutter, to say the least. Poor performances – in large part due to niggling injuries – ultimately led to a bit of disappointment, and then the news that we’d be without our true talisman for a significant amount of time.
The question became, even before McGeady’s long term absence, where would the consistent creativity come from this season? Who could we rely on to grab games by the scruff and will us to victories?
Enter, Alex Pritchard. Albeit, not in the way that anyone expected.
Pritchard came to Wearside highly touted, with an impressive CV, but down on confidence and looking for a career resurrection to prove to everyone, himself included, that he’s still worth the massive sum of £11m Huddersfield paid for his services back in 2018.
His time at Sunderland got off to a well-publicised rocky start as he was unable to join first team training for the all-important pre-season due to the contraction of COVID, followed by a stomach bug. Even after clearing protocols and returning to the first team, he admitted it would take even longer to build back up to full match fitness as COVID’s lingering effects left him a bit hampered.
With Pritchard sidelined, youngsters Dan Neil and Elliot Embleton took their opportunities to get themselves firmly planted in Johnson’s mind as fixtures in the starting XI. Pritchard got his chance to take hold of a first team position when Embleton picked up a suspension for a red card incident. However, Pritchard picked up an ill-timed knock and his window of opportunity was seemingly closing. Patience was now the tune for Pritchard to hear, both for recovering and for another chance to stake his claim at Sunderland.
But, the chance did come, and this time, Alex Pritchard took his Clark Kent glasses off, and put on his Superman cape!
Since grabbing an assist in a late cameo appearance against Ipswich on 20 November, Alex Pritchard has been nothing short of superb. In his last 6 league games, Pritchard has 3 assists and 2 goals in 5 starts. Sunderland, unbeaten in those fixtures. There seems to be a direct correlation between Pritchards emergence and the team’s run of form.
The quality within the player is now beginning to shine through and confidence is now running rampant, for Pritchard and the team at large. The role that McGeady held last season now seems to have been taken in stride by one player whose form is now catching up to the pedigree and reputation that proceeded to the Stadium of Light.
“The man behind the cape”, Alex Pritchard.
It’s now up to Lee Johnson and his assistants to continue to coax the best out of this extraordinary talent, as they no doubt will know.
Managing his health and building game plans around him will undoubtedly be their main focus as the team continues their rise to the top of the table behind the otherworldly performances of our new Superman, Alex Pritchard.