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Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One

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‘Outstanding’ Sunderland defender Tom Flanagan deserves credit for his fine start to the season

Tom Flanagan may not be a fan favourite, but his impressive performances so far this season have gone under the radar. He’s playing well - so let’s give him some credit where it’s due!

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Before this season commenced, there were many questions as to what sort of shape the Sunderland defence was going to take - especially when it came to our centre half pairing. With players such as Callum Doyle and Frederik Alves coming in, it was certain that a new red and white defensive duo was in the midst of being created.

“Will it be Wright and Doyle? Or Alves and Wright?

We still have Arbenit Xhemajli to return. What about him?”

Amongst all of this talk, there was very little consideration given to one Tom Flanagan.

If anything, the general consensus amongst Sunderland fans was it was time for the Northern Ireland international to bring his time in Wearside to an end.

What has followed in the first four league games of this season has been an extraordinary turnaround in fortunes for Flanagan.

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

It is fair to suggest that up until this point, Flanagan’s Sunderland career has been somewhat of a mixed bag. Through injuries, changing of managers and lack of form, there have been stumbling blocks on the path to creating an environment for consistent, decent performances.

That being said, he has shown sufficient quality and a high standard of performances to still be here, going into his fourth season. Since the club’s drop to League One, he’s become one of our longest-serving players, and has seen multiple defenders such as Glen Loovens, Jack Baldwin, Alim Ozturk, Jimmy Dunne come and go through the revolving door.

This should be respected and not forgotten, I think.

Much of the talk from the Sunderland fans early into this season is how sublime Callum Doyle has performed. This is true and cannot be denied. Doyle is potentially an England defender in the making. His calmness on the ball is ice cool and his ability to bring the ball out of defence with such confidence is mesmerising for someone at such a tender age.

With all this talk about Callum Doyle, the performances of Tom Flanagan have gone under the radar. From watching his early season performances, there is an overriding sense of a reinvigorated and confident footballer.

His distribution has been improved, whilst his ability to read the danger is something that has stood out in particular. He is also capable of contributing a goal, as he did against Burton, granted it was offside.

A threat in both boxes.

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

Evidently, Lee Johnson fancies him as a footballer. It also appears that he is getting the best out of him. It can be argued that the style of football that Johnson wants to play suits Flanagan more so than the style of play of Jack Ross or Phil Parkinson.

No doubt, playing alongside better players will improve him also.

The Northern Irish defender has become the perfect foil for Callum Doyle. There is a promising partnership brewing. At 29 years of age, you would assume that Flanagan is in the midst of his peak years - his many years of experience of playing in the Football League is surely aiding Callum Doyle through his early encounters.

Furthermore, Doyle’s natural ability and coaching education from one of the best academies in the world is no doubt benefitting his defensive teammate. With a potential opportunity for further education and self-improvement for both through this partnership, it can only bode well for Lee Johnson if the pair of them continue to show the form they have.

Sunderland have had a good start to the season - and with all the talk of the young charges that have stood up so far, it’s important to throw a bit of praise in the way of an experienced campaigner in Tom Flanagan. So, from me - fair play, and well done.

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