Make no mistake about it – that’s a very good win
The first-half performance may not have been as fluid as we’ve seen in a couple of games this season, but this was a different challenge to what we’ve faced so far – and Sunderland met it head-on.
Promotion campaigns are built on many different types of victories, and we have to find ways of winning against different types of opponents.
Wimbledon, who’ve had a good start to the season, came to not concede and hopefully snatch something from a set-piece or on the break. They defended deep, put men behind the ball and, while they played possession football at the back, they often reverted to high balls to their big centre forward, Palmer.
We barely gave them a sniff in front of goal, and with better finishing could have won by more. There are many examples in previous promotion campaigns of grinding out unspectacular 1-0 victories, picking up the three points and moving onto the next game. It was a vital three points – especially after Tuesday’s unfortunate loss to Burton.
Anthony Patterson steps up to the challenge - and keeps side’s first clean sheet since March
Clean sheets have been hard to come by recently, and yesterday’s was our first since the end of March when we beat Bristol Rovers.
I think we’d been unlucky not to keep a clean sheet yet this season, and it’s a ‘problem’ that’s been overblown by a few over recent days, but all the same, it’s nice to register one – and it should give the team confidence as we enter a run of tough fixtures.
All the more pleasing was that it was Anthony Patterson, on his league debut, who kept the clean sheet. Patterson’s been close to a call-up before yesterday, and it was only through a warm-up injury to Burge that he got his chance, but he took it well.
In truth, he had little to do bar a routine save late on; his distribution was good, he claimed a high ball into the box confidently in the first half but got caught in no-man’s land late on, and needed a Cirkin clearance off the line.
He’ll surely keep his place against Blackpool in midweek, and another strong performance will give Lee Johnson a difficult decision come next weekend.
Unless we manage to get Vito over the line, of course!
Is right back Winchester’s place to lose?
Carl Winchester’s been a revelation at right-back this season.
If we’d signed him in the summer as a specialist full-back, we’d all be raving about him – he’s been superb.
Strong in the tackle, Winchester adds a calming influence at full-back, can pass it well from the back, and looks assured in the role – and he’s able to show his pace in the full-back role; this wasn’t evident when he was playing central midfield last season.
It was widely assumed we’d be signing another right-back during this window, even after the arrival of Niall Huggins from Leeds. However, with Winchester playing so well, I’d not be surprised to see us target another central midfielder and leave Winchester where he is.
Tom Flanagan deserves some credit
Another player who’s caught the eye this season has been Tom Flanagan.
He’s been superb.
I’ve never been his biggest fan – and if you’d told me at the end of last season that Flanagan would be our first choice centre-back at the start of this campaign I’d have been dead against it. However, he’s done brilliantly and deserves praise.
Dan Neil has to be the first choice in midfield
Dennis Cirkin’s lack of match fitness saw him take a place on the bench with Dan Neil returning to left-back. While he performed well again there, I hope it’s the last time we see him at full-back. He’s simply too good not to play in the centre of midfield.
We need to build the team around this lad; his passing is exquisite and progressive, and he’s always looking to create. He’s a Sunderland captain in the making and for me is now one of the first names on the team sheet.
A word on Luke O’Nien in midfield, too. There’s been a bit of criticism of O’Nien’s performance yesterday, but I thought he did a load of work that was incredibly valuable to the team.
Playing in a more defensive role due to Corry Evans’ absence, he put a load of tackles in, closed down well and provided a platform for Embleton and Pritchard who were playing more attack-minded roles.
He’s still suffering from a shoulder injury, which seemed to recur late in the game, and the fact he put it back in and returned to the pitch to see the game out spoke volumes.
Wingers aren’t delivering – do we need reinforcements?
One downside to the performance yesterday, and a reason why we found it tough going in spells during the game, was the performance of both wingers.
Neither gave us an outlet, and created very little for the team. McGeady has been off the boil all season – we know he had injections for an injury during pre-season and missed the final few friendlies, and is that something that’s affecting him?
He’s just not at the races so far, and we could all benefit from him taking a place on the bench for the next few fixtures.
On the other side of the field, Lynden Gooch is an enigma. He started the season off really well – his performance against Wigan was class. His decision-making was superb and it seemed at last something had clicked.
Against MK Dons I thought he put in a really mature performance, but against Burton and again yesterday he put in those infuriating performances he’s capable of, typified by taking too many touches and poor decision making.
Gooch has a lot of positive attributes but we need to see them on something approaching a consistent basis.
With the news Jack Diamond may be going out on loan, we need to add a winger or two to the squad – and I expect to see at least one new arrival over the coming week or so.
Does Lee Johnson need to be more proactive?
One minor criticism I have of Lee Johnson this season is that he seems to be slow at making subs. Against Burton it was clear we needed a change at half-time or shortly after, and again yesterday he seemed slow to change things up.
It’s strange – last season he couldn’t wait to get some subs on but this season he’s waited and waited. I think it cost us the game on Tuesday, and we won yesterday despite it.