Given Sunderland’s injuries have wracked up at pace, chatter prior to the Swindon game centred on the hotchpotch back line. Was the weekend’s result at Crewe a game too far for them? All the talk was moot in the end as the Robins offered little in attack.
Yet, SAFC’s patched up defence continues to march on and it’s something that should spread confidence through the squad.
If we are capable of grinding out results when two attacking midfielders are playing centre back then the sky should be the limit.
With four clean sheets from three now, Dion Sanderson – the one fit but cup-tied senior centre half available – has locked in his position at the heart of defence, be it a three or a four.
Thank God he looks a player. We couldn’t afford for him not to be.
Watching him play I’m reminded of a Roy Keane era player. Not since Jonny Evans has a young, on loan centre back looked as calm and assured on the ball in a red and white shirt.
The similarities don’t end there. It feels unlikely that Wolves will want to part with Sanderson, just like Fergie was always going to retain Evans after his second loan spell.
Even though we might be limited to the one season, perhaps the saddest thing about Sanderson’s success is not being able to see him play in person. He’s the sort of player that relishes a tackle and the one against Fleetwood at home would have lit up the Stadium of Light.
We’re all missing attending games live but it’s those moments that bring it home the most. You sense Sanderson would be a player worth watching a great deal of on match day and four cameras – let alone one – can never do that justice.
Injuries continue to mount, of course, Conor McLaughlin and Lynden Gooch the latest. It must be nigh on impossible to socially distance within our treatment room at present! Both have contributed to the patchwork quilt that is Sunderland’s defence of late and that leaves Johnson’s already limited options even more restricted.
Yet, in many respects it feels miraculous that we aren’t talking about our season already petering away.
Instead, just as we’re hit hardest by lady luck the club feels galvanised – a rejuvenation spurred on by the ‘backs to the wall’ mentality of an injury crisis in defence.
In particular, a back three of Max Power, Dion Sanderson and Luke O’Nien shouldn’t work on paper even with Sanderson’s impressive displays, yet it was effective. In fact, all three could have been man of the match.
This hodgepodge rear-guard is certainly defying the odds.
The real test during the remainder of the season will come from those around us in the table. It’s likely to be where our season stands or falls as long as we keep getting beating the likes of Swindon et al.
Yet our defenders looking on from the sidelines should feed on the confidence within the squad, in part being generated by those playing so well out of position.
Let’s hope the spirit that has been nurtured in a time of injury crisis continues once players begin to return from the treatment table.
If it does, the automatic promotion spots appearing on the horizon should become sharper into view.