FINALLY - a performance to match the points!
For weeks I’ve been longing for a Sunderland performance that gives supporters the hope they are craving in order to believe they have it in them to challenge for promotion... and whilst we aren’t going to define our season based off this one result, blowing away a poor team at home is exactly what we should be doing, so to do it in style makes it even more enjoyable.
All of the things that Lee Johnson has been saying he wants from his side in recent weeks seemed to come together and click into place - we were clinical in front of goal, rarely wasted possession, played with a high tempo, and when we didn’t have the ball we pressed the hell out of Morecambe until they either punted it long or lost control.
It was wonderful to watch.
We simply cannot expect to play with that level of intensity in every game, not when we have a small squad and play three times a week more often than not, but I think at the Stadium of Light, that should be the benchmark, and that should be how we try to take the game to Plymouth on Saturday when they become the latest side hoping to arrive and spoil the party.
It’s a hell of a lot easier to play like that when you’re full of confidence, and having won by five whilst also managing to get our most important attackers on the scoresheet, that hopefully means that we’re coming into form at the perfect time.
Pritchard and Broadhead have arrived
Two of the players we signed in the summer that we all expected would be important to the team this season have finally arrived, and it’s great to watch.
Alex Pritchard and Nathan Broadhead - both of whom have had their fitness issues since joining the club, which has undoubtedly hampered their individual ability to make an impact - are fit, firing and showing exactly why they were so highly rated upon arrival.
Pritchard in particular has been absolutely tremendous recently - coinciding weirdly with the injury to Aiden McGeady. I know they’re different types of players in the way that they play, but I think the role they offer to the side is pretty similar, in that they’re big-game players who thrive on feeling important, scoring goals and being at the centre of everything the team does great. I don’t know if McGeady’s injury has led to Pritchard stepping up and taking some ownership, but some of his football recently has been sensational.
I thought he was superb on Saturday, but he was even better against Morecambe - and, he managed to bag another goal: his third (yes I’m counting the one against Cambridge) in just four games, a lovely finish from inside the 18-yard box after Dan Neil put it on a plate.
Broadhead has had to wait a little while to get amongst the goals, but it feels like he’s rediscovered his sharpness, and the reward was two fine finishes from the Welsh forward last night.
If we are going to get promoted I think a lot hinges on these two players staying fit, because they’ve both got undoubted quality - it’s just a case of keeping them on the pitch, and out of the physio room.
Gooch responds well to warranted criticism
There’s no beating around the bush - Goochy was poor at the weekend, and he’ll have been having nightmares over the mistake he made leading to Oxford’s goal.
It was important that he responded by putting on a bit of a show against Morecambe, and he did just that - I thought that he was arguably our man of the match, especially given that it was his quality that provided Sunderland with the opening two goals, two cracking assists after leaving his man for toast out on the left-wing.
Better teams will expose him defensively, but I don’t think it’s fair to bring that into the conversation here - he was really good in this particular game, and I just hope he can kick on from here and show some consistency.
The vast majority of fans want to see him come good deep down, and he’ll keep winning people over if he can show that level of performance on a consistent basis.
Time to draw a line under the Johnson Out stuff?
I just think we have to accept that there are some fans who are never going to fully invest in Lee Johnson - and that’s absolutely fine. Nobody has to pretend to like him.
But, I think some people need to separate warranted criticism from unwarranted criticism, because too often it seems to blend together, and leads to people overreacting to bog-standard results.
It’s fair game to criticise his team selections, tactics, comments after the game - all that stuff should be debated where it’s appropriate. But, where people can sometimes overstep the mark is by commenting on his appearance, his height... even how much he paid for his coat (yep, I’ve seen someone bring that up in the last few days!).
What’s clear is that the players are playing for him - the last five games show us that. He’s not lost the dressing room, he’s not lost the plot - he’s just trying his best to succeed. I genuinely believe that he’s desperate to make it work here, and whilst that should be expected, we’ve all seen how other managers in recent years have either treated the role with contempt, or simply haven’t put the effort in to make it work.
With Johnson, I think it’s clear he’s got the aptitude and the desire to succeed, and that counts for a lot... with me, at least.
I say, let’s cut the bloke some slack and let him to get on with his job without having to deal with the backlash every time we don’t win a game. The constant negativity around the security of his position really isn’t helping anyone, and I think it’s pretty clear that he’s going to remain in the job for the foreseeable future at least.
I know I’m probably a bigger fan of him than most, but I really just want people to give the lad a proper chance - even if it means biting on their tongues from time to time.