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Talking Points: Is on-loan defender Dion Sanderson evoking Jonny Evans déjà vu this season?

Sanderson continues to impress, and just how important are the next seven days in the context of the season?

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

Does Dion Sanderson’s current situation remind you of Jonny Evans’ back in 2007?

Dion Sanderson put in yet another man of the match performance yesterday against Rochdale, but this time he capped off a marvellous display by scoring his first goal in senior football.

He has become an integral figure in Lee Johnson’s defence, which has prompted Sunderland fans across social media to call for the club to secure him on a permanent basis.

Recent press reports have stated that the Wearside club are looking to do this, but the 21-year-old has also been linked with Sheffield United.

Throughout the past month or so, the Wolves loanee’s performances have prompted me to draw comparisons to when Sunderland had Jonny Evans on loan from Manchester United under Roy Keane.

I do not mean this in the sense of that I believe Sanderson is a future Premier League winner, but instead that he is a player who is clearly a class above this league and I believe his excellent displays will likely lead to Sunderland having no chance of signing him permanently.

The way he distributes the ball, steps in to drive forward, his one-vs-one defending and his aerial ability are all attributes that suggest the young defender is on the right path to be a Premier League player one day.

He is very quickly emerging as a fan favourite, like Evans did, and if he does continue to play how he is while pushing Sunderland towards automatic promotion, it’s debatable whether Wolves will allow him to depart at all.

Every time he steps onto the field it feels like he is just increasing his price tag.

Is the coming week our biggest test of the season?

Beating Rochdale means that Sunderland have now won five of their last six matches, a run that has propelled the club up to fourth, just five points off the automatic promotion places.

Having said that, I would argue Sunderland’s two biggest tests of the season will come this week against promotion rivals Portsmouth and in cup final against Tranmere.

Since the club were relegated to League One in 2018, they have beaten Pompey just once in five league meetings and also lost to the South Coast side in the 2019 EFL Trophy final on penalties.

Sunderland and Portsmouth have developed a temporary rivalry and they have always been close promotion competitors for three years now.

Under Jack Ross, Sunderland did beat Portsmouth in the playoffs, but I would still argue Portsmouth have been our most difficult opponent during our spell in League One. Winning on Wednesday night would give the side a huge psychological boost.

Beating a promotion rival live on Sky with the rest of the league watching would make a clear statement and show our competitors that Sunderland mean business under Lee Johnson.

Also, the EFL Trophy symbolises unfinished business for Sunderland. Our loss in 2019 was a huge blow to our promotion hopes and it also continued the club’s poor run playing at Wembley.

Beating Tranmere would provide Sunderland with silverware, a victory at Wembley, but most importantly something to smile about for everyone involved with the club.

While it is not the FA Cup, winning a trophy at Wembley would give Sunderland fans some joy, breed confidence within the players, and it would be the the start of a winning mentality that needs to be implemented at the football club.

It would be fantastic to start the Louis-Dreyfus era with some silverware, and it would symbolise the start of a rebuild.

If Sunderland can finish next week with three points and a trophy, imagine the buzz around the Academy of Light.

Sunderland v Portsmouth - Sky Bet League 1
Portsmouth beat Sunderland 3-1 at the Stadium of Light earlier this season.
Photo by Robert Smith/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Ten players were missing against Rochdale - how many more injuries can Sunderland cope with?

Apologies, that after a victory I have to end on a negative, but I am become increasingly concerned by Sunderland’s mounting injury list.

Sunderland lost Lynden Gooch and Conor McLaughlin earlier in the week, while Carl Winchester also went off injured yesterday with what appeared to be a groin injury.

Lee Johnson is currently selecting the team without Tom Flanagan, Jordan Willis, Bailey Wright, Arby Xhemajli, Denver Hume, McLaughlin, Gooch, Grant Leadbitter, Benji Kimpioka and Ross Stewart – ten players in total, eleven if Winchester is more than a few days out.

Some of the above mentioned players have returned to training, but since Sunderland are playing two matches per week it places more pressure on players given the increased work load.

Our injury crisis meant that Ollie Younger had to make his debut yesterday, with academy graduates Dan Neil and Josh Hawkes on the bench to make up the numbers.

Also, with Dion Sanderson, Jake Vokins, and Winchester all cup-tied against Tranmere. that potentially leaves Johnson even shorter for next Sunday.

Particularly given our defensive absences, you do wonder how much longer before Sunderland are exposed for fielding midfielders in defence. It very nearly happened against Crewe.

The main concern is that, if our players do not recover, given our intensive fixture schedule we could find ourselves with a squad lacking depth and a bench full of inexperienced academy players.

My hope is that Johnson has purposely given players more time to recover for next week against Portsmouth and Tranmere. Hopefully when the team sheet is named on Wednesday night we see a few familiar faces returning to the squad.

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