clock menu more-arrow no yes
Burton Albion v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One

Filed under:

Things are shaping up at Sunderland - and a win on Saturday would symbolise great progress

With the squad looking undoubtedly stronger and deeper than it did a few weeks ago, it’s a relief to know that injuries won’t necessarily cripple us as they have done previously.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

So, after losing our first match in what had been a promising, and slightly tricky early-season swing of fixtures, all eyes will be on the Stadium of Light on Saturday as we prepare for our second home league fixture of 2021/2022.

The defeat against Burton was more frustrating than worrying, and the manner of it was irritatingly familiar.

Play with real verve and positivity, create a hatful of chances, and then fall victim to a combination of poor decision-making (Aiden McGeady’s first-half chip was very badly-judged), wayward finishing, and an opposition goalkeeper who chose that night of all nights to ‘have a worldie’ as the pundits are fond of saying.

Of course, this being a League One game, the picture was completed as a questionable offside call deprived us of what would’ve been a handy point right at the death, but complaining about the plumbers and the plasterers who pass for officials at this level is a red herring.

In the cold light of day we were our own worst enemies at the Pirelli Stadium, and that was the top and bottom of it.

Still, despite the loss, the picture is not entirely gloomy.

Lee Johnson is clearly implementing a new style of football - one that, up to now, has been impressive to watch, while several emerging players are making strong cases for continued selection, and the likes of Ross Stewart are showing their quality on a weekly basis.

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

That being said, avoiding that most dangerous of cliches - ‘If we play like that for the rest of the season, we’ll win more than we lose’ - is crucial.

To that end, Saturday will be a good test of our mentality. Can we rebound strongly? Are we able to bank the frustration of Tuesday night and turn it into a positive force when the whistle blows at 3:00pm?

Against Wimbledon, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a fearsome response to the midweek loss, and for us to continue to build on the vibrant style of play we have witnessed in the early stages of the season. Reacting to defeats has often been something of a weakness for us in recent times, but Sunderland circa 2021 could well be a different animal altogether.

With home debuts in prospect for the likes of Dennis Cirkin, Nathan Broadhead and possibly Frederik Alves too, it ought to be a game set against a lively, upbeat atmosphere, and it represents an excellent chance to regroup and to continue to make early inroads towards the top of the table.

There is no doubt that Lee Johnson has some selection quandaries ahead of the weekend.

Does Alves slot straight into the defence alongside the ever-improving Callum Doyle, despite Tom Flanagan looking pretty solid so far? Is there a case to be made for starting Alex Pritchard, who has looked good in flashes so far, and unleashing a rested and rejuvenated Aiden McGeady with 60-70 minutes on the clock?

Sunderland AFC Announce Signing Of Alex Pritchard Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The ‘Give it to Geads’ approach - so heavily relied-upon last season - cannot be our only option of attack this season, and I do think that the possibility of interchanging Pritchard and Embleton, between the wing and the number ten position, is one that might bear fruit for us. Both players are versatile enough to do it, and fluidity, not rigidity, might well be the order of the day.

If you’re a Wimbledon defender on Saturday and you see McGeady warming up midway through the second half, you’re not going to be turning cartwheels at the prospect of having to face him.

Managing the mercurial Irishman sensibly is going to be essential this season, and perhaps deploying him in a different role may not be the worst idea in the world.

Port Vale v Sunderland - Carabao Cup First Round Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images

Midfield is also an area of interest, too. With the influential Corry Evans ruled out for up to a fortnight, it feels as though the Dan Neil/Luke O’Nien axis will be Johnson’s go-to pairing in the meantime, despite the ongoing clamour from some for O’Nien to be shunted back into defence.

In terms of energy and passing ability, it ought to work well, but in Evans’ absence we undoubtedly lose some physicality, and hopefully the balance isn’t affected too badly.

With the squad looking undoubtedly stronger and deeper than it did a few weeks ago, it’s a relief to know that injuries won’t necessarily cripple us as they have done previously.

If we can seal a victory on Saturday, it would be very churlish to suggest that nine points from the first twelve available represents a ‘failure’.

We would be set fair for the games that await us, and if we can augment the squad with one or two quality signings ahead of the window closing (Leeds United’s Niall Huggins and former SAFC goalkeeper Vito Mannone are the latest to be linked with us), there’s a great chance that we will continue on what feels like a definite upward trajectory.

NEWS!

Friday Night Live! Get involved tonight @ 8pm with our brand-new interactive Twitter Podcast

ROKER RAPPORT PODCAST!

Roker Rapport Podcast: Previewing Fleetwood v Sunderland with ‘Cod Army’ owner Andy Pilley!

What do you want to see from table-topping Sunderland at Simon Grayson’s Fleetwood?