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Sunderland v Accrington Stanley - Sky Bet League One

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Talking Points: Was Dan Neil’s first Sunderland goal the best moment of the season so far?

We take a look at all the key Talking Points on the back of Saturday’s win: Was Dan Neil’s goal the best moment of the season so far? What did we make of the Hoff’s debut? And, what about Winiesta (again)?

Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dan Neil scored his first Sunderland goal in front of the South Stand at the Stadium of Light - was that the best moment of the season so far?

Imagine scoring a screamer for the team you have supported your entire life in front of your home crowd - what a feeling!

As football fans, we all love to see one of our own break into the team and thrive. Dan Neil is living the dream currently and he fully deserves it. From covering at left-back to being a breath of fresh air in midfield, the 19-year-old has been excellent this season and has acted as a new signing.

Last season Sunderland’s midfield was experienced, but it lacked energy and progressiveness on the ball. In Neil, Lee Johnson has a midfielder who is happy to play in tight spaces, who always looks to move the ball forward, and who has the energy to break forward and make things happen.

His goal was excellent. If there was anyone on that pitch I wanted to score, it was Neil. The way he sold the defender with the dummy, before unleashing a rocket to beat a goalkeeper who had an excellent game was brilliant. It was easily the most enjoyable moment of the season so far for me.

Sunderland may have made Corry Evans captain, but he will have a very hard job winning back his place if Neil continues to display this level of performance. He is undroppable at the moment.

It really is hard to believe that he is just 19-years-old.

Sunderland v Accrington Stanley - Sky Bet League One
The 19-year-old now has one goal and three assists this season.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Thorben Hoffmann endured an erratic debut, but his kicking was fantastic and he will add something different to Sunderland’s game!

The question every Sunderland fan wanted the answer to before the Accrington match was: how good is Thorben Hoffmann?

The 22-year-old endured some rather nervous moments, which you can perhaps excuse given that it was his debut in a new country, but what stood out most for me was the quality of his kicking.

Both Lee Burge and Anthony Patterson are competent goalkeepers at this level, but one area of their game which does not compare to the German is their ability to distribute the ball.

Throughout the match, Hoffmann perfectly landed the ball for Ross Stewart to control or win flick-ons. He was willing to act as a sweeper-keeper and was happy to receive the ball to feet and then trust his defenders to play out.

I really enjoyed watching the team have the confidence to play out from the back, but I also loved Hoffmann’s vision and ability to begin counter attacks where necessary.

Of course, the main part of goalkeeping is being able to keep clean sheets through your shot-stopping and ability to command your area, something which Hoffmann will have to display as well as his kicking, but I am excited to see how he develops this season.

As with many of Sunderland’s new young players, they’re going to mistakes or have anxious moments during matches, but when you can see the talent is there, you have to place the faith in them to develop and improve.

Sunderland v Accrington Stanley - Sky Bet League One
Thorben Hoffmann put in a respectable performance during his first taste of English football.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Is Carl Winchester proving just how important confidence is in football?

I don’t think anyone can say they were excited when Sunderland signed Carl Winchester from Forest Green in January, yet he may just have developed into a fan favourite so far this season in a position he wasn’t even signed for!

The 28-year-old has done a very respectable job to cover at right-back this season. His defending has been steady one-vs-one, he never shirks a tackle and going forward he has shown the confidence and desire to break in behind and make things happen.

Whether it is playing passes, taking people on, or having the courage to shoot, Winchester seems to be on top of the world right now and loving every moment in a Sunderland shirt.

The way he shifted the ball onto his weaker foot and unleashed a very near screamer, and let's not forget his effort from the halfway line which very nearly lobbed James Trafford in the Accrington net.

He was always a tidy player who could pick a pass last season, but he never was someone you thought would score goals or take players on with skills. The Northern Irishman is thriving in a team high on confidence and you can see in his body language during and after the match just how much he loves playing in front of a roaring crowd at the Stadium of Light!

Winchester has earned the trust of the manager, his teammates and the fans at right-back and I think the consensus is that the position is his if he maintains his current performance levels.

You can imagine that the idea was for new signing Niall Huggins to take this position at some point, but right now there is absolutely no need to change anything. Imagine being told last season that Carl Winchester should begin the season at right-back? Football is a mad sport!

Sunderland v Accrington Stanley - Sky Bet League One
Winchester scored his third Sunderland goal to secure all three points against Accrington.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Tom Flanagan is suspended against Fleetwood - should Bailey Wright or Fred Alves take his place?

It may have been an incredibly soft one from a referee who thoroughly enjoyed handing out yellows throughout the match, but Tom Flanagan’s fifth caution already this season means he will be suspended against Fleetwood on Saturday.

It will be a huge shame for Lee Johnson, as the ex-Burton defender was playing his best football in the three years he has been on Wearside and had formed an unlikely but excellent partnership with 17-year-old Callum Doyle.

Sunderland’s two options will be on-loan West Ham defender Fred Alves, or Bailey Wright, who has been used as a late sub to help protects leads.

Alves is the superior option on the ball, but has had limited football since joining the club. His sole appearance came during Sunderland’s 3-2 away win against Blackpool in the Carabao Cup and he has understandably been kept on the bench.

On the other hand, Wright possesses vast experience at this level and has been involved much more. The Australian international has featured in five of Sunderland’s six league matches from the bench and played 90 minutes as captain in our two Carabao Cup victories.

In a defence that will contain two highly inexperienced players in Callum Doyle and Dennis Cirkin, as well as a makeshift right-back in Carl Winchester, I think it would be beneficial to have an experienced head who can command the defence and take charge.

We have seen how much Flanagan talks to Doyle during matches and in Wright, another strong leader would be stepping in to cover. It would make sense for him to come in and add stability to our back four, rather than risking another young player who is still settling in.

Would you select Alves or Wright against Fleetwood?


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