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Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One

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Nobody’s perfect in League One - but Sunderland should strive for maximum improvement!

We will lose games and drop points - it’s just a fact. That said, it doesn’t mean we should just accept it, and Sunderland’s priority should be improving on the pitch, and in the transfer market.

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

Last week was a bad week for Sunderland AFC - a really bad one, nothing can disguise or gloss over that fact. Such performances and results always feel worse when they come on the back of what was such a good period - that run which filled us with so much hope and expectation.

However, should we really be surprised that it ended the way it did?

Well no, not really.

Lee Johnson is a manager who has a reputation for streaky runs of results, with wins and defeats coming in batches. However, I have never really understood how this reputation could hold true. Football is a sport that is made up of so many variables that as night follows day, defeats follow wins – unless of course you are Manchester City and have resources so far in advance of the competition that victory is all but assured, but we don’t.

So, are these “streaky” runs not just the inevitability of what happens when you play attacking front foot football at the level which we are at? I believe that they are.

This season has shown that when things click we are pretty much untouchable, the team combining like a well-oiled machine. But things have a habit of going wrong, whether that’s injuries, red cards and too many daft mistakes.

Again, this is a symptom of being in League One... we should be used to it by now.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

This is on a whole a young team and squad which is still very much in development. We don’t have time for patience, but we must remember that we have a group of players very few of whom have played above this level.

As frustrating as it is, it is entirely normal that results will be imperfect.

This season - for the most part - we have done really well in most areas. We are less reliant on one man - be that McGeady, Wyke or Maja - however, we must remain cautious over the recent overreliance on Alex Pritchard for a creative spark, and Ross Stewart for goals.

Nevertheless, for the first time in years, we have a team rather than a collection of individuals.

We have witnessed dips in form by young players Doyle, Embleton, Cirkin and to an extent Dan Neil, and the heart-breaking loss of Nathan Broadhead to injury weakened our attack significantly. The next couple of weeks are vital as we must recruit some support for Ross Stewart and add strength to the midfield. We all know that.

Eyebrows were raised in the summer when the concept of a leadership group was introduced. Whatever the benefits of having such a group in place were - we have lost McGeady, Evans and O’Nien for huge chunks of the season. Bailey Wright was sorely missed at Wycombe and at home to Lincoln, the result of which was clear. Only Tom Flanagan and Lynden Gooch have been fixtures out of that group this season. Both are famously inconsistent performers who have had plenty of ups this season, but as we know they are capable of embarrassing downs and that’s what we have seen from them recently.

FBL-ENG-LCUP-ARSENAL-SUNDERLAND Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images

That impacts on the consistency of performance and the results for the team, we already knew that. The effect of being without the experience and leadership which that group brings is a huge blow - they were supposed to be the glue that bound the young talent together. We must give credit to the younger lads who have really stepped up, but inconsistency is to be expected and that is what we are seeing.

It is clear that the weakest part of the team is the defence.

We can see that on paper, and on the pitch.

We have been without a specialist right-back all season – those who have occupied that position have done pretty well, but that has weakened other parts of the team.

Our left-back is 19 and our left-sided centre back just turned 18. Tom Flanagan does his best and has generally done okay this season, but is he the man to lead those young lads to his left when his talent is such that he needs to concentrate on his own level of performance? Inconsistency and mistakes are the inevitable result.

A leader to play in that critical centre of defence is a must this month.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

The above is really just a statement of the bleeding obvious - anyone who has watched this group regularly knows what the issues are.

Opposition coaches and managers watch us as well and it is inevitable that a way will be found to counter our strengths, of which there are many, we saw it earlier in the season and we are seeing it now. We should not be surprised by that.

This seasons promotion charge is far from lost, however. We have a squad of very good players who can beat anyone in this league. We will have another charge and we will likely have another dip as this season progresses. We should not be surprised and we should not get too down or panic when we do.

Promotion requires calm heads and a bit of luck - there is a long way to go, and it’s all to play for. The last two weeks of this transfer window are key to it though. A couple of leaders in those central areas and some support for Ross Stewart will make all the difference.

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