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Doncaster Rovers v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One

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Two Up, Two Down: Our panel give their view on Sunderland’s festive victory at Donny

Surely there are plenty of positives and not too many negatives to take away from the Bank Holiday Monday lunchtime kick-off... let’s see!

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Michael Dunne says...


Alex Pritchard. This boy is getting better and better with the more games he plays. He along, with Dan Neil makes everything tick for Sunderland and he is becoming a really important player. I continue to be impressed with his close control of the ball and how he can manipulate the play that continued to lead to many chances created. His importance to the team cannot be underestimated at present. Not only do I think he’s probably one of our best players, I think he is probably one of the best players in the league.

Elliott Embleton showed his ability on Monday. It’s been something of a mixed bag for him this season. He has probably lacked consistency at times which has possibly led to him being out of favour. This was one of his better performances and his busy performance was constantly a threat to Doncaster. In a season where he may be somewhat overshadowed by another academy product, it was great to see him play so well.


Picking at straws for things to complain about... but I do think Ross Stewart could do a little better with his movement within the box. Stewart played well but his movement for crosses appeared to be a little static for me at times. It struck me of someone who may be lacking a little confidence or fluidity in his game and was possibly overthinking every move. It is not something to be very worried about as I would imagine with a couple more goals, it will become more natural again.

Doncaster’s performance. A really appalling display from the home side. It was a complete walk in the park. Sheffield Wednesday will be a different challenge completely.

Doncaster Rovers v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Matt Smith says...


Tykes bearing gifts. With a worryingly lengthy injury list and this being the 1st of 3 games within a week, Covid permitting, the ease with which we swept aside an admittedly poor Doncaster side, resting the legs of Evans, Pritchard, and Stewart in the process, suggests there should be plenty of fuel left in the tank for the more demanding games against Sheff Wed and Wycombe. Being able to dictate the pace of the game after our early goal and a share of possession that would make many a lion jealous, a comfortable win was secured in as comfortable a fashion as you’re likely to see at this level. Although there was more of a physical presence up front in the second half, the threats to either our goal or fitness remained reassuringly remote throughout. A far cry from our previous couple of visits to South Yorkshire.

Life After Broadhead. With Broadhead now missing for so long that his continued loan beyond Jan must be in doubt, the Doncaster game offered reassurance that we have the creative quality and source of goals to cope with this undoubted setback. Not many teams will gift us as much space as Doncaster but the frequency with which the likes of Dajaku, Gooch, Embleton, Pritchard, and Neil (and even Cirkin, Hume, and Wright on occasion) found themselves in dangerous positions in and around the box bodes well for our ability to continue to create chances in Broadhead’s absence. Stewart’s well-taken penalty, Embleton’s improvisation, and Pritchard’s impudent flick should give confidence to players and fans alike that the goals will continue to flow.


Dan Neil’s Stock Rises. With every assured performance dripping with class, our hopes of keeping hold of Dan Neil become a tad more forlorn. Speculation linking our better players with currently higher-placed clubs is the price to be paid for success at this level. Whatever the club’s own valuation of Neil, heads can easily be turned and dressing-room harmony can quickly turn to discord with such paper talk. Deterring suitors and keeping the lad grounded will increasingly occupy more of the club’s time as the season progresses.

Denial of second half penalty. It seems churlish to complain about refereeing decisions, particularly as this ref was a cut above the usual fare served up at this level, but in the absence of any other gripes, the decision to not award a second penalty after Dajaku was thrown to the ground was baffling at best.

The second half incident gave the ref a choice of two offences warranting a penalty, both of which he declined to take up. Neither the comfortable scoreline nor the prior awarding of a penalty for a foul on the same player should give impunity to defenders but the ref decided context, rather than the rules, dictated his exercise of clemency.

Doncaster Rovers v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Andrew Smithson says...


Total football. There were times last season when our only option going forward was to find Aiden McGeady and hope he could put the ball on Charlie Wyke’s head. When it worked, like it did the last time we played Doncaster Rovers, it was brilliant - but once defenders cottoned onto it we were easy to shut down. Fast forward to now though and we are so much harder to negate; we can turn defence into attack in an instant, we can spray the ball across the pitch with ease and we have several players able to create chances.

Gone is the laboured, plodding style of last season where every pass had to be inch-perfect or the move would break down and in its place is a side comfortable in possession and keen to move forward.

I know Doncaster had a few key players out, but so did we to be fair. Carl Winchester and Nathan Broadhead have been two of our best performers and yet we still looked very fluid without them.

Total dominance. This was my first away game since Sheffield Wednesday and the difference was huge. As well as looking good on the ball, we were so hard working and organised off it that Doncaster barely laid a glove on us all day. We were tracking back down the channels, snatching possession in dangerous areas and snapping into tackles throughout the game, and on the odd occasion Doncaster did string a few passes together we held a very good shape.

Lee Johnson mentioned afterward that the players are learning to be ‘tactically agile’ and I can see exactly what he means; at one point we seemed to have about five left backs on the pitch and on several occasions players were shifted into different areas, and yet we looked balanced throughout. This was the type of controlled, complete 90 minute performance we need to be producing in the coming weeks and we are now starting to see the level of consistency that we all hoped for ever since dropping into League One.


Mixing it up. I’ve got to be honest and say this was the type of game where you are having to search hard for real areas of concern. The atmosphere in the away section was top class and the team more than matched it, but if I was being pushed one thing I wouldn’t mind seeing us do a tiny bit more often is pump it long.

Thorben Hoffmann seems to be under orders to always play it short and I fully get why this is, but I personally would like him to be given a bit of licence to really put his foot through the ball every now and then if we are being pinned back or there is a quick break on.

It could have been more. This is me being greedy more than anything else but after going three up so soon after half time and playing so confidently I fancied us to get another couple of goals. We may have over complicated things slightly once or twice, but a four or five-goal win away from home would have been fully deserved as well as a great message to the other sides near the top.

Mind, in reality, keeping something back in the legs for the busy couple of weeks that are coming up is no bad thing, and if we ever get to a position where ‘only’ winning 3-0 is a problem I’m sure I’ll cope...

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Gav Henderson says...


The fans were class. It reminded me of those away days under Keano in the second half of the season, where we rocked up to these tinpot stadiums with almost as many fans as the home side, sang from start to finish and totally outclassed the opposition. More of those types of away days and we’ll get promoted - we are a fanbase who are just desperate to see a team on the pitch that we can be proud of, and against terrible opposition in Doncaster, we showed our class both on and off the pitch.

Corry Evans was very good. I was glad to hear Lee Johnson single out the former Manchester United midfielder for praise after the game, because he was excellent in just keeping the ball ticking over and bossing possession.

It helped that Doncaster didn’t try to press us at all, but he was able to show us why he was brought to the club - the key, as always with Evans, is whether he can stay fit for long enough to have a lasting impact. We need a central midfielder in January which is a bit of a shame, cos if Evans could stay fit and play as he did at Donny we’d probably not need someone else. Still, he was great and Johnson looked after him by bringing him off when the result was out of sight, so that’s a huge positive regardless.


Could we have done… more?! The scoreline is great, but I share Lee Johnson’s view that we should have been more clinical particularly in the first half when we were in search of a second goal. Ross Stewart showed immense composure earlier in the season, but he’s struggling to get his shots away right now and I think he’s got to step up to the plate now that we’re without Nathan Broadhead for most of the rest of the season.

Likewise, we need to make our set pieces count, and our centre halves have to start registering goals and doing their bit at the top end of the pitch. Might seem like nitpicking, but if we want to earn a top two spot we need to be more ruthless, and score goals from all areas of the pitch.

Our bench showed how close we are to a real selection crisis. Thank God that our starting eleven is so good, because the bench just isn’t good enough. I know we are really struggling with injuries and have had a few COVID cases, but that bench was sorely lacking in quality, and it showed when we had to take players off.

Nobody who came on really improved us - we need a strong January window, and the club’s board needs to ensure that Lee Johnson and Kristjaan Speakman are given adequate financial backing to bring in top quality players who will improve our team and improve our chances of winning the league.

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