Paul Fletcher says...
Improvement from McFadzean...
If there’s one thing this season has taught us, it’s never to write a player off. If you’d told me six months ago that Charlie Wyke was going to score 20-plus league goals and be the key to our automatic promotion hopes, I’d never have believed you.
Now, I’m not saying that we’ll see such a dramatic turnaround from Callum McFadzean, nor am I claiming that he’s going to turn into a world beater by the end of the season. To be honest, I don’t think we’ll witness a turnaround of Wyke proportions ever again.
However, there was a marked improvement in McFadzean’s performance last night, and the better things went for him, the more he grew in confidence during the game. I just hope he can carry that confidence into Sunday and continue to improve as the season reaches its conclusion.
The Max Factor...
So far this calendar year Max Power has started in all nineteen of Sunderland’s league and cup fixtures, playing the full ninety minutes in fifteen of them. In short, that’s one hell of a shift he’s put in.
A captain’s shift you might say. Despite this workload, he doesn’t look jaded - if anything his stint at right back has energised him. I’ve never seen him be more consistently involved in games or get through as much work. Long may it continue.
While McGeady, Wyke, Sanderson and O’Nien are getting a lot of fully-deserved praise, Power’s consistency and workrate shouldn’t be overlooked. He’s been a key part of a makeshift back four that’s managed to keep more clean sheets than anyone expected and he contributes a lot going forward too.
It’s better to have loaned and lost...
Dion Sanderson and Jordan Jones were both magnificent last night, once again. It’s already been mentioned on several occasions that they both look a cut above in this league and the quality they displayed last night must have confirmed this beyond reasonable doubt. Two vastly different players but both a joy to watch in a red and white shirt.
The only negative here is that they are not on permanent contracts, so we may only see them play another dozen or so more games for Sunderland. As supporters, we just have to enjoy it while it lasts and hope that Johnson, Speakman and Lewis-Dreyfus can work some magic behind the scenes to either extend their loan spells or sign them permanently.
Obviously, if we achieve promotion, we’ll be in a stronger financial position to begin negotiations and playing Championship football (hopefully in front of more than 30,000 fans) should be an attractive prospect to sell to the players
We could be ten points clear...
If we’d taken maximum points from our home games against Gillingham, Plymouth, AFC Wimbledon, Wigan, Burton and MK Dons, we’d currently be sitting ten points clear at the top of League One.
Ten whole points! Instead of claiming the eighteen points that were on offer, we scraped a meagre three, in home games against bottom half sides.
When you see an almost identical squad winning five of their last six league games and looking relatively comfortable in the process, including going to Portsmouth last night and winning so convincingly, you can’t help but wonder how that terrible run of results ever happened.
Yes, it’s frustrating to think about, but those games are gone. More importantly, we’re hitting form at the right time and we’re still in with a real chance of automatic promotion. While I’d much rather be ten points clear, I’m still confident we can do it.
Rich Speight says...
The Rise of Winestsa...
Perhaps it’s because we got him from the vegan minnows of Forest Green Rovers, or because he was playing in the league below for the first half of this season, but the signing of Carl Winchester was met with a lot of scepticism back in early January.
However, last night we saw exactly the qualities that made him Lee Johnson’s first signing, with an assured and classy performance which included pinged diagonals and intricate one-twos all over the pitch. The man keeps the ball moving and the team flowing forward, whilst grafting away and winning the ball back quickly when out of possession.
There were one or two cheap fouls given away by the Northern Irishman on Tuesday, and it wouldn’t have been surprising if he’d picked up a yellow card in the first half, but this was a standout performance that bodes well for the rest of the season and beyond.
Optimism across the fanbase...
I think we’re all buzzing after that.
It’s not hyperbole to describe the win against Pompey as perhaps the best all-round performance by a Sunderland side that we’ve witnessed in the last half decade. That it was live on Sky for the rest of the footballing world to see (alright, those who weren’t watching Juve versus Porto on the other channel) was very satisfying indeed.
The combination of the best chance we’ve had of winning at Wembley in many decades coming up on Sunday, the spectre promotion now clearly on the horizon, and the odds on there being a Wear-Tyne derby next season shortening all the time, makes a heady combination for long-suffering fans.
The gap to the automatic promotion spots keeps closing with every win, and we just want this feeling to last forever.
This feeling won’t last forever...
Now for the flip side of that optimism. In the background, we all know that we’re probably not going to go the rest of the season unbeaten and the confidence that exuded from the Lads on Tuesday won’t last forever. When Johnson first came to the club, a frustrated Bristol City fan reminded me that his nickname down there was “Streaky Johnson”, owing to the tendency of their team to go on long winning runs followed by long strings of defeats. Pride often comes before a fall, and our confident swagger will be something that the Tranmere, Accrington, Lincoln and - of course - Bristol Rovers managers will be determined to break in the coming weeks. But Johnson will, I’m sure, be trying his utmost to guard against complacency and we all hope that the winning mentality he’s engendered in the team will carry us to the Championship come May.
No cutting edge from O’Brien...
It seems churlish to pick out any player from the line-up that so comprehensively outclassed Portsmouth as in need of improvement, but I feel like if Aiden O’Brien had been sharper the scoreline could have better reflected our dominance.
Two instances stick in my mind: on one occasion in the first half a promising counterattack faltered when the ball got stuck under his feet, and in the second a gorgeous centre from Jordan Jones was begging for O’Brien to fling himself Wyke-style and bury it in the bottom corner, but the movement wasn’t there - and the ball was cleared from the middle of the six yard box.
Yes, he does the hard graft running the channels, and his hold-up and link-up play and his ability to bring in other forwards is an important aspect of his game and probably why he’d kept his place despite the lack of goals.
The slight muscle injury he picked up might well mean that it’s Lynden Gooch who plays in the support striker role on Sunday, so it will be interesting to see whether a player with different attributes will be able to slot into O’Brien’s position or whether Johnson thinks a change in shape will be needed.
Gav Henderson says...
The most complete performance of the season...
I honestly cannot remember the last time Sunderland played that well from minute one to minute ninety, with every single player playing their part in the journey.
It’s easily the most comfortable performance we’ve had this season, and probably the most comfortable performance we’ve had since we were in the Premier League.
That to me is a big sign of where we are at right now - most of us felt unsure going into the game of whether we’d turn up... we didn’t just turn up, we battered them. More of this, please.
Not much has been made of the fact we seem to score from set pieces in every game now. Once again, we had a dead ball situation that ended with Charlie Wyke sticking his nut on it and scoring a goal.
It’s a testament to the hard work going in on the training pitch - we’ve gone from never scoring from these situations under Parky, to making it one of the most lethal weapons in our arsenal.
We should have scored more...!
I realise I’m being very picky here, but there wasn’t really that much to complain about. What I would say is that the scoreline doesn’t necessarily reflect how dominating we were.
The crosses Jones and McGeady stuck in the box were outstanding, yet we only scored twice, and neither of our goals came from a cross in open play.
This isn’t really a criticism of the approach, just that I think the performance deserved another couple of goals on the end tally.
Flanagan almost came back with a bang...
Tom Flanagan has been missing for a while now, but he came on to replace the injured Aiden O’Brien, and within minutes of his introduction he almost gave away a penalty. He was slow to react to the ball dropping and took more of his man than he did the ball - luckily, the ref didn’t blow his whistle and we got away with it.
It unnerved me though as we’ve gotten used to O’Nien and Sanderson making zero mistakes, and then one of the old guard steps back on the pitch and makes the type of mistake he’s become famous for since signing from Burton three years ago.
We can let Flanners off as he’s obviously lacking in match sharpness, but assuming he’s fit to play on Sunday, he has to be able to adequately replace Sanderson, and not repeat errors like we’ve seen in the past.