The Chris Maguire of last season? Has he earned a starting place in Lee Johnson’s side?
Just when you thought Sunderland were going to do a typical Sunderland and lose, an almost forgotten man under Lee Johnson in Chris Maguire delivers the goal of the season to snatch a point in the 97th minute.
What an absolutely beautiful strike. The technique and the importance of the goal - hit by a man who many thought would be sold on deadline day - showed that Maguire possesses the hunger and fight to win his place back in the team.
Sunderland were shocking yesterday and deserved nothing from the match - we rescued a point purely from two moments of brilliance, but the one positive I think Lee Johnson can take is the attitude of the substitutes.
Maguire has not started a League One match under Johnson since the embarrassing 1-0 home defeat against Wigan - he’s fallen from being one of Sunderland’s star players to an impact sub, but yesterday he played with the swagger that we’ve seen on many occasions in the past, in happier times where he was a more integral part of the team.
The Scot’s delivery was sublime - he propelled two excellent crosses into the box from set-pieces, one of which Luke O’Nien criminally headed wide, whilst another was unchallenged.
He looked like he had a point to prove, and scoring such a cracking goal will certainly have placed his confidence on cloud nine.
Given the poor displays from Aiden O’Brien and Lynden Gooch, Johnson now has to decide if Maguire has earned a start against Swindon on Tuesday night - and after the way he performed yesterday, I do not think anyone would question him for doing so.
Chris Maguire started Lee Johnson’s first league game in charge of Sunderland, but has not started since.— Matthew Crichton (@MattyCrichton) February 27, 2021
Many thought he would be sold on deadline day, but it appears he is fighting back to earn his place.
Does he still have a part to play? ♂️ #SAFC
Pace, directness, and goals - surely Jordan Jones now deserves a starting run?
Whilst Maguire’s strike probably will steal the headlines away from Jordan Jones, his display from the bench cannot go unnoticed.
The only logical reason I can think of as to why the on-loan Rangers winger is not starting games is for fitness reasons, because every time he’s put on a Sunderland shirt he has been excellent.
The 26-year-old was dribbling past Crewe players for fun; his pace and directness are a class above this level, and defenders simply have to foul him.
Every appearance he makes he bursts past players with ease - for his goal he just dropped his shoulder and left the defender for dead before unleashing a phenomenal strike into the top corner.
On his first start against MK Dons in the EFL Trophy he was excellent. He assisted Charlie Wyke against Burton, and was brilliant last Tuesday against Fleetwood - whenever he plays, he makes things happen.
The main issue that Johnson has with Jones is that he prefers to play on the left, so he can cut in on his right foot, but that is where Aiden McGeady has been thriving recently.
The 26-year-old has previously played down the right as a winger, but putting him perhaps limits what he can actually do, given that he enjoys cutting inside.
Should Johnson wish to use the 4-2-3-1 system more, one option would be to put McGeady in the ten role to allow Jones to play on his preferred side.
Whether it is on the right or left, I do believe that the sheer pace and running ability of Jones is too good to restrict him to short cameo appearances.
Grant Leadbitter has dislocated his shoulder - does Lee Johnson need Carl Winchester to step up?
The saddest part of yesterday was seeing Grant Leadbitter go down injured, with the club confirming that he has dislocated his shoulder.
The 35-year-old has done very well this season to work his way back into the starting eleven - it’s a huge shame that he will now likely miss the EFL Trophy final against Tranmere at Wembley next month, as well as many pivotal games in Sunderland’s promotion push.
If Leadbitter is to potentially miss the rest of the season, one player who Sunderland really next to step up is January signing Carl Winchester.
Signed from Forest Green in League Two, Winchester was the unfashionable signing Lee Johnson had discussed in press conferences - he was signed purely because he had previously performed well under Johnson at Oldham.
The 27-year-old has had a steady start to his tenure on Wearside, but some of his excellent touches and passes have perhaps been weighed down by some anonymous displays.
We know what Max Power and Josh Scowen are capable of, but now is the time for Sunderland fans to see why Winchester was signed, and why he was an integral player in a promotion-chasing Forest Green side.
Given that the games are continuing to come thick and fast, Johnson will not only need Winchester to start more matches, but he’ll need him to step up to the plate and contribute - and given that he’s been here almost two months, you’d expect he’s settled in now and ready for the challenge.