Bailey Wright’s return to Sunderland’s threadbare defence was a welcome boost at the time given the way our injury luck had gone. It was typical Sunderland fashion when one returned, we lost another, in the shape of potentially one of our best players this season, Dion Sanderson.
Given the quality of the two players, it was a real shame that we never really got to see a fully fit Sanderson-Wright duo at the heart of our defence.
In an ideal world, Wright would not have been rushed back so soon. Injury to Conor McLaughlin in the warm-up forced Lee Johnson’s hand before the defeat to Wigan, leading to a clearly unfit Wright making a swifter-than-expected return.
Like any player returning from a long layoff, it is always anticipated that it can take a few games for them to get back into their stride. This is no different for Wright.
He’s had to build up his own physical and mental fitness while establishing a new partnership with fellow centre back O’Nien (with whom he’d never previously played in a back four, and only sporadically in a three).
Add to that the pressure of being thrust into a faltering promotion charge...
That being said, due to the fantastic standards set by himself, the Australian has been rather underwhelming upon his return.
For a man of such stature and physique, he has looked a bit off the pace, unsteady and a touch nervous.
Wright’s signing last season was one of the very few things that Phil Parkinson got right at Sunderland – his addition to the squad made a significant, immediate difference.
It was certainly no coincidence that as soon as he signed Sunderland began to string consistent wins and clean sheets together. It can be argued that had the season not been curtailed due to Covid, we could have been talking about Sunderland playing in the Championship. This would have been in no small part to Bailey Wright.
When Lee Johnson joined the club, it seemed a match made in heaven. Wright was Johnson’s club captain at Bristol and it was easy to assume that Wright would be integral to his plans.
Johnson certainly rates him, as he should.
He is a natural leader, and on his day, can boss any striker in this league.
It’s fair to say that he’s not hit the performance standards he’d set himself, but with two massive games coming up, it is time to see a return of the real Bailey Wright.
It is a defining week coming up. It is imperative that Sunderland’s leaders – and clearly, Bailey Wright is one of these – rise to the occasion.
Lincoln are no mugs. They will have watched Sunderland’s recent performances and seen our defensive struggles.
Since Wright’s return for the last seven games, Sunderland have conceded 11 goals. This is in contrast to the previous seven without him where we only conceded 5.
It would be naive to solely put this blame on his shoulders, but it is entirely fair to suggest we expect more from a man of his calibre. Hopefully, he’s fully recovered from his injury and up to the speed of first-team football.
After being very prematurely forced back into action, the 10 days rest will hopefully have done him the world of good.
Going into two – hopefully, three – tough games, Sunderland need the real Bailey Wright at the heart of our defence.
Because the player we saw prior to his injury could be the difference between us going up or not.