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Sunderland v Oxford United - Sky Bet League One

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Talking Points: Good performance - but is a point enough? And... can we just calm down a bit?

Sunderland played well, but is a point good enough? And whilst the short-term answer to some of our defensive problems could be right in front of Lee Johnson’s eyes, there’s a call for calm after some unsavoury incidents at full time...

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Good performance - but is a point enough?

I thought we started the game really well, pressing quickly and playing with high intensity, and we were duly rewarded with a quality goal from Leon Dajaku, who turned his man inside out before firing under the keeper.

I get that teams - good teams especially - will respond by firing back and creating their own chances, but the way that we totally stepped off Oxford after scoring was disappointing, and it’s not the first time that we’ve done it this season.

But, to Lee Johnson’s credit, he changed the team shape for the second half and we dominated - but for hitting the post and the bar, we would have won the game.

I’m disappointed because I feel that we did enough to take all three, but a few hours out from leaving the stadium I’m probably more content, given the team we drew against are in good form and took a respectable point off the best team in the league during the week.

Is it enough? Tough to say right now. If we win our next two, which is the expectation that we should be setting, then seven points from a possible nine across those three home games will be more than acceptable for most supporters, I’d imagine.

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

Injuries... bloody injuries!

Other than the eleven players we put out, the only ‘senior’ players in the squad yesterday were Aiden O’Brien and Elliot Embleton - the rest were all members of our U23s side.

Amongst them was 17-year-old defender Zac Johnson - what a proud moment for him and his family. I know he didn’t get on the pitch, but I hope it’s not the last we see of him.

That said, the fact we’re leaning so heavily on our U23s shows how thin the squad is right now.

That means we’re restricted in how we can play and how Johnson can set the team up, and that more than anything is what concerns me about how our season will pan out.

The transfer window doesn’t open for another 27 days, and in that time we have six games.

We’re desperately short on numbers, and barring a remarkable recovery by Niall Huggins, Dennis Cirkin and Denver Hume, we’re going to have to play all of those games without proper full backs, which ultimately harms our ability to pick a strong, balanced side.

Leon Dajaku and Lynden Gooch are trying their best to fill in, but it’s obvious where our weaknesses are. And just a quick note on Gooch, but I’m so disappointed with his role in Oxford’s goal, especially after he did so well at Cambridge. He improved when he went to left-back, but by that point it was a bit too late to redeem himself.

That said, all is not quite lost.

Now that Arbenit Xhemajli is back in the first team picture, there’s scope to perhaps play a back four made up entirely of central defenders. It won’t be pretty and I imagine we’ll lose a bit in attack, but we have two left footers in Arby and Doyle, and three right footers in Flanagan, Wright and Alves. They’re not going to contribute much offensively, but I’m certain we’ll be more solid, and more balanced.

Callum Doyle is good enough on the ball to play left back I think, and on the other side... well, I have to admit I was taken by surprise when I saw just how well Bailey Wright did there in the second half. Maybe he’s better on the ball than I’ve given him credit for.

It’s absolutely not a long-term solution, I know that, but we’re stretched and this is going to be a long, tough month - it’s certainly an option.

Whether LJ goes for it I don’t know, but it’s certainly worth considering, because we look - understandably - very exposed in those two full back positions at present.

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

Any chance we can just... calm down a bit?

We’re two points off the team currently occupying top spot... yet one look on social media would have you convinced that we lost against Oxford and we’re plummeting down the table. And it was the same inside the ground too. There were boos at full time - not many, but it was loud enough to catch my attention. There were reports of fans arguing with Lee Johnson down by the tunnel after the final whistle, giving him stick.

Just... why? We’d all love to be walking the league... but c’mon.

I could understand if we got twatted or were just generally shite, but we actually played alright in the second half. Any neutral watching the match would probably say we were unlucky not to win based on the chances we had, and the fact the post and bar stopped us from scoring goals that would have put us ahead.

Chris made a point in the Editorial blog on Monday that the reaction we are seeing to almost everything now is likely due to the fact people are just sick of being in League One, and I think that he might be right. I can’t think of a more logical explanation for why things are the way they are right now - it seems we expect either perfection, or nothing. The response to draws is as though we’ve lost the game when we haven’t.

I dunno, I can’t put my finger on it. I just feel so fed up at the minute and it’s not necessarily because of the team on the pitch. Sorry if that offends anyone, it’s just how I feel.

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


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