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Wigan Athletic v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Third Round

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Talking Points: Cup run proving a welcome distraction for confident Sunderland!

Sunderland responded to Saturday’s draw in style with a dominant display against Wigan. Here are the key talking points...

Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

After Saturday’s sucker punch, the team responds in style

Saturday was utterly disappointing, and it will have hurt everyone involved with the club.

On occasions such as this you want to get back out on the pitch immediately, and last night’s game was the perfect chance to atone.

And we did it in style. The fixture couldn’t have been better – a few days after Fleetwood, against a good League One team in a game Lee Johnson could easily make a number of changes.

The team that played was much changed but incredibly strong, and we managed to get our season back on track after a little blip in thoroughly convincing style.

Wigan Athletic v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Third Round
The team responded in style last night
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Competition for places ramps up

We’ve got a good squad with significant depth this season, and the likes of Nathan Broadhead, Alex Pritchard and Niall Huggins in particularly have been unlucky not to see more league action.

They, along with Fred Alves and Leon Dajaku, were given a chance to impress and the vast majority of them took it.

Broadhead, Pritchard and Huggins in particular impressed, and it’d be a surprise to not see at least one of them in the starting line up on Saturday.

Wigan Athletic v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Third Round
Niall Huggins was one of a number who impressed
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Is a cup run an added bonus or an unwanted distraction?

We’ve suffered in the past from cup runs leading to too many games, compounding an already heavy fixture list, but I feel this cup run is benefiting us significantly.

The Blackpool win will have given players the confidence of being able to beat higher-division opposition, and the fixtures so far have seen Johnson play a much-rotated team.

The next round will see us get drawn against higher league opposition – unless Wimbledon shock Arsenal tonight – and it’s a challenge the team will be well up for.

Not only that, it’s allowing Lee Johnson the chance to make changes to his team he’d be hesitant to for league games – and these players coming in are champing at the bit to earn a league start.

Even the most optimistic supporter won’t be expecting us to have too many more fixtures in this competition, so let’s enjoy it while we can!

Wigan Athletic v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Third Round
The cup’s proving a welcome bonus so far
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Is Luke O’Nien becoming our most important midfield player?

This season, Luke O’Nien’s had his first run in midfield since he signed for us three seasons ago, and his performances are improving week by week.

He turned in a man-of-the-match display on Saturday against Fleetwood, and again turned in an impressive display last night.

He’s always had a goal in his locker, and it was good to see him get off the scoresheet yesterday – he’s capable of getting into double figures from midfield.

His all-action displays so far this season have been reminiscent of a modern-day Kevin Ball, and he’s becoming invaluable to how we play – in particular breaking up play, winning back possession, and setting the tone for the rest of the team.

While Dan Neil’s had an outstanding season so far, O’Nien’s quickly becoming our most important midfielder.

Wigan Athletic v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Third Round
O’Nien’s impressing in midfield
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Pyschologically, an away win at Wigan could stand us in good stead

We’ve already beaten Wigan at home in the league, but they’ve responded brilliantly and are currently ahead of us in the league one table on goal difference.

We go back to Wigan at the end of February for the return league game, and from a psychological perspective, last night’s win won’t have done us any harm at all.

It’ll be a completely different proposition in February, but knowing we’ve won there already this season will stand us in good stead.

Wigan Athletic v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Third Round Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

And finally, how good are our fans?

We shouldn’t be surprised of course, but 1500 fans travelling to Wigan midweek for a cup game between two ‘second string’ sides is remarkable.

Our supporters are what makes our club, supporters are what makes football, and it was just another reminder to the still-new management team and players just how much SAFC means to us.

Lee Johnson certainly seems to have bought into it, judging by his celebrations, and hopefully this group can harness the support and be motivated by it – rather than cower under it and use it as an excuse for failure like so many of them who’ve come before.

Wigan Athletic v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Third Round
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

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