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Fleetwood Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One

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Two up, Two down: The highs and lows from Sunderland’s trip to Fleetwood

If ever a game was ripe for finding both positives and negatives, surely it was Sunderland’s draw away at the Highbury Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Here’s what our panelists had to say...

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Tom Albrighton says...


Chances galore. It was a pleasure to yet again see/hear that Sunderland yet again created a host of chances going forward, despite too few being converted. Going forward, keeping that attacking mentality will no doubt reap great rewards and should we increase our ruthlessness in front of goal, we’ll soon be blowing teams away

Thorben Hoffmann. The young keeper was absolutely fantastic today, and up until a dreadful penalty shout, looked to be worth all three points. Sadly, it wasn’t to be but Hoffman’s mature and controlled performance between the sticks was a sight to behold.

A string of wonderful saves and some top-class distribution, it looks like we may well have the league's best keeper.


Abysmal officiating (again) playing a huge role in Sunderland surrendering two points on the road. While O’Nien’s penalty was as clear as day, the same can’t be said for Fleetwood's spot-kick. At the time we were inviting pressure so while we can blame ourselves to an extent, referees again deciding the outcome of what was an otherwise good game is a disgrace. The officiating at this level really is abhorrent

Fleetwood woes continue. They’re fast becoming a bogey team for Sunderland on the road, yet again we have failed to topple the Cod Army on their home turf. The longer these runs go on, the more of a ‘thing’ they become. Hopefully, that’ll be the last time we play Fleetwood at their place for a long while... fingers crossed.

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

Matt Smith says...


For a long-term project, a spectacular start can add undue pressure. Sitting top of the league with five wins from six has made the club’s transformation, on and off the pitch, even more convincingly credible. Yet this is a young team, finding its feet and learning along the way. The stats will probably prove me wrong but I get the feeling that early pace-setters in League One rarely last the distance. Surrendering the top spot to Wigan may help to ease pressure and expectations as well as, maybe, making us marginally less of a prize scalp in the eyes of other League One clubs.

Quality youngsters performing at the back. Counter-intuitively, given the defensive frailties that denied us three points, the performances of Hoffman and Cirkin suggest we may be in a far better position to weather future storms than we were in the latter stages of last season.

Expectations of our new signings from Bayern and Spurs go beyond simply being better than Burge and MacFadzean. Cirkin, at least, had already cleared that low bar but today’s performances by both mean sights can realistically be set much higher.


Holding out for a win didn’t work. When it does work, a tactic of protecting a lead in the hope of inviting the opposition to leave themselves open to the counter-attack looks like a rope-a-dope masterclass. When you’re two goals to the good with 10 to play and end up coming away with a point it doesn’t look so clever.

Game management won’t come easily to a young side so Johnson, while still a relatively young manager himself, needs to learn how to read, communicate and implement strategies in these sort of situations much more effectively.

Aussie off the pace. It’s only one game but Bailey Wright’s return, off the back of uninspiring performances on his return late last season, doesn’t inspire confidence in our centre back options.

With untested alternatives in Alves and, perhaps later in the season, Xhemajli we need Wright to rediscover the form and leadership he’s shown in the past. Hopefully, today was just a bad day at the office. We all have them but we can’t afford many more.

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Sunderland’s Dennis Cirkin
Photo by John Cripps/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Rich Speight says...


Luke O’Nien’s commanding role in the middle of the park. O’Nien was an absolute machine on Saturday, especially in the first half when his passing and movement were as impressive as his defensive covering and intercepting. We’ve long hoped to see the best of him in central midfield, and I feel that when he’s alongside the cultured Dan Neil, he really flourishes. He’s a leader, he’s passionate, and – apart from the needless yellow card – he was pretty much flawless against Fleetwood.

The way we play when we’re going forward is a joy to behold. Honestly, this is the most exciting Sunderland side I’ve seen play in a very, very long time. The interplay, the triangles, the running on and off the ball... Johnson really has these lads playing a lovely brand of football. All that’s missing is the finishing touch, and if we had found it we could have been home and dry well before the 75th minute.


Winchester’s defensive frailties were exposed at Highbury. He was at fault for the first Fleetwood goal, looked out of position on a number of occasions, and only a fantastic last-ditch recovery tackle saved him from costing us even more. That said, going forward he’s absolutely fantastic and, as an all-round package at fullback, he’s still going to be hard to displace.

Not closing out games. We really need to take our chances when they come. I thought we were pretty wasteful in the final third, and this isn’t the first game where we should have taken more advantage of the long periods of control and dominance we had in the game. There’s no shortage of quality among the front four and the options coming off the bench, so it’s high time we put the ball in the back of the net more often from open play.

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


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