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Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet League One

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Happy f**kin’ days - Sunderland give us plenty to be optimistic about after canny performance

Everyone knows that the squad isn’t perfect, but the players we do have showed they’ve got plenty about them - proving their worth whilst defeating a supposed promotion rival.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

I think I’m one of few who haven’t been overly concerned about the lack of transfer activity.

The window is open for another three weeks, the market is slow, and the signings made so far have been developed, or spent the vast majority of their careers, with clubs in the divisions above League One.

In addition, new contracts for Luke O’Nien and Aiden McGeady were so important, the welcome return of Elliott Embleton to the Sunderland squad and the promotion of several youngsters means much of the squad development has been internal and under the radar... not the splashing of millions the fans were expecting, or wanting, sometimes craving.

We also made some brave decisions in releasing our captain, not going overboard to keep our top scorer, whilst also releasing a number of experienced utility players.

In the run-up to Saturday’s opener, large amounts of criticism has been directed toward the manager and recruitment team for the lack of full backs, the lack of money spent and so on.

Yes, it was nice to have a squad signed and settled before the season opener, but that’s just unrealistic. The market is stagnated and clubs are waiting for a trickle-down effect to start.

COVID-19 has also caused further issues. It’s evident the club are looking to sign players from above League One. Long-term investments more likely to get us promoted, and be good enough for the Championship, should we be promoted.

A second talking point was our opponents, Wigan.

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

Backed by Middle Eastern cash, Wigan have made some waves in preseason recruitment, not spending loads of money, but some eye-catching free transfers of players we are only too familiar with, in Wyke and Power - whilst reports suggest they could have paid £1m plus to sign Jordan Jones on a permanent transfer, earlier in the week.

Even the most optimistic fan will have found themselves thinking of a Wyke, Jones, or even Power winner in Saturday’s game. As it turns out, we need not have worried. Truth is, Wigan have signed League One players, good League One players... but players who have largely played in League One for their whole career.

I think Sunderland have already proved this doesn’t mean promotion from this league.

When I saw yesterday’s line ups, I found myself thinking - would I rather have Wyke or Stewart, Power or Evans, Jones or Gooch? The answer to each Stewart, Gooch, yes, Evans, not sure, I haven’t seen him play a competitive game... now bear with me, that’s easy for me to sit here after a 2-1 victory say I told you so, here’s why it’s not just a reaction to the game, but more a vindication, which is good news in the long term.

First, Ross Stewart. Won a penalty, scored the winner. However, he did so much more. A vital component of our defensive set up, on dead balls, a never say die attitude to hound defenders. What is most impressive about Stewart is his movement and mobility – meaning our playing style has changed. No longer are we hoofing it forwards every time.

He finds pockets of space around the box, which defenders hate, the penalty win, a prime example. We employed some long diagonals, not to Stewart, but to full backs and wingers so we could have the ball on the floor, in the final third.

Space created by Stewart’s movement.

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

As for Charlie Wyke, he had an afternoon all too familiar to Sunderland fans - lethargic, awkward and slow. Still a threat from set-pieces, but largely an uneventful, frustrating afternoon, ending with a number of cynical fouls on an 18 year old who had marshalled him well all afternoon. A yellow card followed. Noticeably, Wigan found themselves hoofing it up to Wyke in desperation, sound familiar?

What about Evans and Power. I have always liked Power, and appreciated his applause to Sunderland fans as he trotted out for his warm up.

Most Sunderland fans liked Max Power. He bought into the club and understood what the club and fans needed. He was a good captain, always 100%, always honest, always protecting those in Sunderland shirts, on and off the pitch. He’s a player you like when he’s on your side, but when he’s not, you don’t.

As the afternoon went on, again, I would use the word frustrated to sum up his afternoon. Same old Max, always wanting to be on the ball, always up for a tackle, always shithousing, where possible.

However, it became clear to m that Max Power is actually limited by his approach. He tries too hard, tries to dominate the ball, and the game. But actually, that slows teams down. Too often sideward passes, too often late tackles or indiscipline, he also got a yellow card.

On the flipside, how calm and composing was Corry Evans?

Largely takes 1 or 2 touches, but always trying to pass forwards. Always an option and always in and around his opposing midfielders. Quietly seeing to his business and allowing more creative players such as Embleton to drive the team forwards.

My fondest memories of supporting Sunderland was the Johnston and Summerbee era. I love a good winger. Tricks, pace, goals and general entertainment.

Jordan Jones showed snippets of quality last season - his goals against Portsmouth and Crewe the highlights. But his performance today couldn’t sum up his time at Sunderland any better. Again, super keen to be on the ball, lots of step-overs, but ultimately, very little quality in the final third. Dispossessed on a number of occasions. A little harsh maybe, given his substitute appearance, but he’s a luxury, a bit of a show pony, who will continue to be inconsistent throughout the season.

As for Gooch? My man of the match by a comfortable distance. He was on fire.

He looks fit, full of confidence and ready to step up as a key player. I know he can be frustrating, his decision-making and final ball can be lacking, but he’s still only 25! His quality was summed up by his majestic turn and run which ended in his hitting the woodwork. That deserved a goal.

However, it’s his attitude, work rate and contribution to the team, which will always be head and shoulders above Jordan Jones. If he can continue to work on his final ball, he will be a key player this year. He also showed his adaptability and willingness to help the team by filling in at right back for the final 20 minutes, the highlight of which, a dummy, make a fool of……..Jordan Jones.

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