Are Elliot Embleton and Dan Neil proving that Sunderland should have more faith in their academy players?
In Elliot Embleton and Dan Neil, Sunderland had two players on the pitch on Saturday who were consistently snubbed last season for more experienced players.
There is an argument to be made that perhaps Neil was not ready, but Embleton’s loan to Blackpool showed exactly what he was capable of and proved why he should have been provided with more first-team minutes.
In Sunderland’s opening two matches the duo have been excellent and a real breath of fresh air, as the club moves away from the previous recruitment model and looks to bring through a new wave of youth.
In his preferred position of central midfield, Neil was positive on the ball and set up Embleton’s goal which clinched all three points for Sunderland. Also, his willingness to cover at left-back earns him respect. It is clear that he is not a left-back, but he has been steady and by helping the team he has managed to complete 90 minutes twice.
Further forward, Embleton has done excellently in filling Chris Maguire’s shoes. His set-pieces have been fantastic, he always looks to make things happen, and how cool and composed was his finish on Saturday? The 22-year-old is always looking to receive the ball and I always have confidence that he can create something for the team.
As Callum Doyle (17), Neil (19) and Embleton (22) have all excelled so far this season, should we feel more confident and at ease when Lee Johnson awards more of our younger players first-team exposure?
Ross Stewart can’t possibly equal Charlie Wyke’s 25 league goals last season, or can he?
Two games played, two goals scored and two penalties won - it has not been a bad start for Sunderland’s new leading striker, has it?
Many Sunderland fans were skeptical of the club not bringing in another striker, but so far Ross Stewart has proved everyone wrong and looks like someone who can lead the line.
He has held the ball up well, he looks dangerous in the air, but the main thing he does which has changed the dynamic for Sunderland is run in behind. Last season with Charlie Wyke, our midfield knew that he would not run in behind or create his own chances, he purely relied on the quality of deliveries into him.
Now Lee Johnson has a forward who gives Sunderland multiple ways of playing. You can go long to him to hold up, you can spray a ball in behind and he also possesses the pace to beat players. Yesterday he displayed the excellent sides of his game. He followed the ball in well for his opening goal in poacher style, he showed aerial prowess when he played in Pritchard one-vs-one, and his willingness to run earned the team another penalty.
It would be a big ask for Stewart to reach 25 goals when his career-best is 14, but similarly to Josh Maja a few years ago - who nobody expected to be our main striker at first - the Scot has started the season brilliantly in front of goal.
How long he can keep it going?
Lee Burge endured a difficult match against MK Dons - do Sunderland need another goalkeeper or should Anthony Patterson be given a chance?
Although yesterday’s match was mostly positive, one area that I simply cannot avoid discussing is Sunderland’s goalkeeping position.
Lee Burge was at fault for the goal Johnson’s side conceded through a misplaced throw, and he had several flappy moments during the match that would have made any Sunderland fan’s anxiety skyrocket.
The ex-Coventry man is a satisfactory League One goalkeeper. He makes the occasional excellent save and is steady for the most part, but are the frequency of his errors too high?
It is fair to state that since Jon McLaughlin departed Sunderland for Rangers, I do not think we have recruited a goalkeeper of similar quality. Burge was credible cover but I think he is a downgrade, and Remi Matthews proved to be a waste of a transfer.
The question now is, does Johnson stick with Burge, sign a new first-choice, or hand Anthony Patterson a chance?
I personally do not think that Sunderland will sign a new goalkeeper as Burge achieved many clean sheets last season, and I think our budget priorities will be elsewhere. Also, the club may be using the emergency loan strategy that many other League One clubs used against us last season.
Johnson could provide Patterson with a chance following his brilliant form for the under-23s, but considering he has zero league experience it would always be a risk. You could look to the signing of Doyle as an example of how if you are good enough you are old enough, but it would still be a brave decision as goalkeepers are something that cannot be chopped and changed.
What decision would you make?