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Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One

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“Certain things need fixing ahead of the Portsmouth game!”

Mike Dunne mulls over Sunderland’s performance at the weekend, now that the dust has settled - and concludes that we quickly need to fix some glaring issues to ensure we get a result against Pompey.

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Another weekend over - and another weekend where Sunderland have flattered to deceive.

As a one-off, a draw against Accrington Stanley would not be deemed as a terrible result. They have already beaten Rotherham at home, and are certainly plucky opponents.

Whilst I would be overall positive about the job Lee Johnson is doing, unfortunately, some of the same issues are beginning to continually raise their heads again and again.

There are things to question and ponder. Have we got sufficient leaders? Why are we conceding late goals? How many new signings are we going to need?

There is a juxtaposition about this Sunderland side. They are young but inexperienced. Talented but not streetwise. Attacking but soft at the back. I could go on.

It is the nature of having a young side.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Chris Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

Though at present, for every positive, there is almost a more glaringly obvious issue that is potentially derailing our automatic promotion hopes. Though we are currently second, the dogs on the street know it is probably a false position. Wigan’s five games in hand have to be taken into consideration.

On recent form, we are a play-off team at best. In reality, that is where we would probably be if Wigan did not have so many games in hand. Of course, the Latics still need to win these games and we all know that it is better to have the points on the board.

In many aspects, one could argue promotion is quite necessary for the club. Rightly or wrongly, the pressure would inevitably grow on the head coach and ownership should it not come to pass.

This makes this January window more important than it should be. The mooted arrivals of Patrick Roberts and even Jermain Defoe would breathe life into the club. They would be signings that would excite the fans and add to our creativity.

Scoring goals has not been a massive issue for the team this year. Conceding goals, and sloppy ones at that, is the biggest issue. The centre of defence is absolutely crying for some reinforcements.

Although possibly playing some of his best football for Sunderland this season, Tom Flanagan has hit a sticky patch of late. Recent performances from the Northern Ireland international have been littered with lapses of concentration or sloppy play. It just appears that for all his extremely capable attributes, the potential of a mistake will never fully be eradicated from his game.

The purchase of more central defenders would allow Lee Johnson tinker a little more with his side and not have to play players who seem out of sorts, like Flanagan.

With Arbenit Xhemajli appearing out of the picture, and Frederik Alves returning to West Ham, reinforcements are imperative in this area.

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Furthermore, leadership, or lack of it, is something that has raised it’s head for me in the past couple of games. This young squad seem a touch vulnerable and need some cooler, experienced heads to get them over the line.

Lee Johnson must be cursing his luck as he saw the majority of his leadership group succumb to injuries. The loss of Corry Evans, Aiden McGeady and Luke O’Nien could be keenly felt in recent encounters.

In the last three games against Wycombe, Lincoln and Accrington, one can argue that there were times in these games that it needed an experienced player to take the bull by the horns and control the final few minutes, or in the case of all the games be vocal to other players on the pitch who appear to be completely asleep.

Between these games, I can think of four or five different times where players have been caught ball watching, out of position, or unnecessarily backtracking when we are not in possession - the most recent one occurring for Accrington’s goal.

Sunderland v Charlton Athletic - Sky Bet League 1 Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

These moments are becoming all too common. These are the moments where the vocal players and leaders need to take control. It is easy to blame the manager but in times like that, you need players to stand up and take responsibility and be accountable.

The expected return of Corry Evans will hopefully help this ahead of Saturday’s game. Evans’ return will strengthen the overall spine of the team.

Although Dan Neil and Elliot Embleton have been in great form for the team in recent weeks, the Sunderland midfield needs a bit more industry and know-how. The return of Evans will also allow the players to focus on their strengths further up the pitch.

Saturday’s game is a big one. It always is against Portsmouth. Ever since the club dropped into League One, this game has taken on a narrative of it’s own - one with needle and no love lost. It’s one Sunderland need to win.

If some of these issues above can be fixed, I would have no doubt we can secure the much needed three points.


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