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Sunderland v Oxford United - Sky Bet League One

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Two Up, Two Down: What positives & negatives can we pluck from Sunderland’s latest performance?

The dust has settled, and we can now look at Saturday’s performance through a more objective lens. What are the biggest positives and negatives that we can pluck from our 1-1 draw with Oxford?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Tom Albrighton says...

TWO UP!

We gave a much-improved performance that was more akin to the start of the season than what we’ve seen in recent weeks. With a threadbare squad, a series of players put a brilliant shift in, with clear partnerships developing. Whilst there is fine-tuning to be made in terms of the final ball, many times on Saturday, Sunderland we’re simply a pass away. On a luckier day, we’d have run away with things.

Alex Pritchard is starting to look like the player we had all hoped to see turn out weekly. Some deft touches and excellent work in tight areas were complimented nicely by his tenacity and work rate off the ball, as well as a comfortable passing display. At times he struggled for support in what remains an unfamiliar system, but his quality now shines through more often than not. Signs of partnerships are also starting to shine through which will prove to be a useful weapon in Sunderland's arsenal later in the season.

TWO DOWN!

The referee - again. So many pathetic decisions, a general loss of control and another stonewall penalty ignored as Callum Doyle was suplexed in the penalty area. It’s becoming a recurring theme at the Stadium of Light especially, and whilst we can’t and shouldn’t rely on penalties to see us through games, yet again the Sunderland have played against 12 men whilst our opposition milk everything from weak officials, both on the park and on the touchline. Is fairness too much to ask for?

The lack of quality on Sunderland's final ball simply has to improve, and sharply. Whilst the signs were again positive, the quality of service does need to improve. Taking one touch too many and not taking a touch when in time and space, our play was plagued with poor decisions in the final third. Should the quality improve I have no doubt we’ll be back to blowing teams away, but there’s little wonder Stewart finds himself in a barren spell whilst surviving on scraps.

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

Gav says...

TWO UP!

Wright Back! Tin hat on here, but Bailey Wright moving to right back in the second totally threw me, because he not only looked quite mobile, but he also looked canny on the ball. He’s been here a while now and I honestly had no idea he was so comfortable with the ball at his feet, but there we are. We’ve got six games before January, and we need to find a way to just get by without full backs in that time - if I was LJ, I’d look to shore us up by playing a couple of central defenders there. Sure, we’ll probably lose something from an attacking perspective, but maybe we’d stop leaking so many daft goals and making mistakes down the flanks if we put actual defenders in those positions.

Dajaku with another nice finish. Leon Dajaku has plenty to work on when it comes to his game, but he’s a young kid playing his first season of ‘proper’ footballer after a move abroad, so I’m prepared to cut him some slack. However, that said, I think he has to be credited for scoring another tasty goal - his third of the season, and what a belter it was.

TWO DOWN!

Ross Stewart didn’t score, unfortunately. I’m desperate for him to get a reward for his hard work on the pitch, but he’s not scored in a little while now and he looks short of confidence. He hit the woodwork in the second half - I’m sure they’ll come soon if he keeps grafting.

Gooch lacks consistency. I was really rooting for Lynden after his performance at right back last weekend, but he struggled badly in the first half against Oxford and his dithering on the ball cost us the goal. I actually think he improved with the move to left back, but he wasn’t able to make amends for the mistake and most fans left the ground frustrated by his performance. I’ll never criticise Lynden for his effort, but it feels like he’s not really going anywhere here and at some point he needs to prove he’s good enough over a run of games.

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

Kelvin Beattie says...

TWO UP!

Pritchard beginning to show what he can do. This was Pritchard’s best game in a Sunderland shirt. He put in a canny shift till his substitution and was involved in most of our more potent offensive work, to some degree. He slid a lovely pass to Dajaku for our goal, and looked a threat throughout.

A Solid defensive unit! Wright, Doyle and Flano looked in good defensive nick against a lively Oxford attack. Flano and Wright looked particularly solid and up for the battle. Gooch too (acknowledging his error in the lead-up to their goal) looked solid enough, as we head into a busy festive period of games. Wright looks to have found his mojo again, and gave a battling performance where he won most of his aerial duels and put in some important tackles. This appeared to inspire his two central defensive partners, who contributed similar performances to the game.

TWO DOWN!

Dive Dive Dive! When you get a combination of weak officials and opposition who hit the ground at the slightest invite it can be a very frustrating watch, and so it was for most of the game. The officials have a lead role in tackling the curse that is diving. Simulation is of course a punishable offence. My belief - and I admit this is a particular soapbox issue for me - is that until officials show more courage, clarity and consistency, diving will continue to blight the game.

If there was a stat on diving, based on the game Oxford would figure highly. The officials had a poor day with corners and throw-ins being given the wrong way, also missing a clear penalty claim, with an unobstructed view for the linesman typifying their performance. There was an incident early in the first half where Wright saw the ball out of play for a throw-in, with an Oxford forward all over him, right in front of the fourth official and clearly viewed by the linesman was particularly galling. Wright turned as the ball went out of play and bumped the forward, who had been all over him. The forward, in a comedic fashion and an obvious split second later, threw himself to the ground clutching his head (like a poor extra from the beach landing scene in Saving Private Ryan). The referee took his time, calmed the melee and then took the easy/gutless route out of the situation and booked both players. Have some courage - book the cheating, and maybe we could all have some trust in your performance.

Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Boo Boys (& girls). At half time, the officials were booed off the pitch - and rightly so - but at full time there was more booing from what appeared to be a vocal minority, aimed at the team. Listening to the booers as I exited, it was not easy to grasp why they were booing. We were the better team in the second half, without a doubt - we hit the bar and post, and fashioned at least three other opportunities that in another game would have led to a goal. There was no lack of energy or effort, and there was a bit of skill and guile. Oxford are probably one of the better teams we will play in League One.

So come on you booers - think about how you can best support, and at the very least, save your boos for the Strictly or Bake Off result on TV, where you will not be “blessing” the majority of us with your dummy-spitting behaviour.


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