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Sunderland v Portsmouth - Sky Bet League One

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Talking Points: Sunderland found a way to win, but will their slow starts cost them eventually?

In fairness, that’s the only negative - because Sunderland may have found the missing piece of the jigsaw, and found a way to master a pitch that’s starting to look like an allotment.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Sunderland cannot afford to start games like this

In many ways, this wasn’t too different to the Lincoln City match in terms of how Sunderland started the game. Ponderous, lethargic and leggy, the home side looked like they were absolutely begging to get smashed.

Better sides would have taken full advantage.

It was in fairness to them, the absolute polar opposite of how they started games against Plymouth, Cheltenham and Morecambe, for example.

You have to wonder what the issue is - a lack of focus, preoccupation with the cabbage patch we currently call our home turf, or an instruction to play out from the back?

A case in point being Thorben Hoffmann playing a complete hospital pass in the first 15 minutes which very nearly led to a Portsmouth opening goal, or his similarly brainless throw which was intercepted by Tyler Walker, before Marcus Harness inexplicably put out the windows of the Black Cats bar with the goal at his mercy.

Building from the back is an integral part of our press, but the truth is the option to do so is not always there - something Johnson recognised with Hoffmann clearly being instructed to go longer on occasion.

But whatever the reason for their poor start, Sunderland could and should have been punished. Alarmingly it wasn’t because Portsmouth were forcing the issue, as they looked lethargic themselves.

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

Batth gives Sunderland exactly what they need

I think we can all agree that Danny Batth gives Sunderland something they had been sorely missing since, well, forever.

He has a rather sinister air about him, but I for one couldn’t be happier about this - I hope he puts the fear of God into opponents, like the menacing silent henchman from a Bond movie.

He’s a man who could head breeze blocks away, and he doesn’t mind who he tackles - friend or foe. There was more than one occasion on Saturday where he took the ball, the man and the teammate. Just to make sure.

It’s lovely to see, though Tom Flanagan might not agree, as he was on the receiving end of one Batth tackle which wiped him into next week.

There is no nuance to his play whatsoever - he’s about as subtle as a bath crashing through your ceiling into the kitchen. Yet that in many ways is the missing piece of the jigsaw. Yes, the offensive players provide the bells and the whistles, but it has to be built on a solid foundation - and Batth is that. His long balls look less Hollywood and more aimless punt, but that doesn’t matter that much as long as he does the dirty work well.

If he can stay fit, and operate as part of a defensive three, then players like Callum Doyle can only improve as Batth will provide protection and cover to allow him to play his natural game.

Sunderland Unveil New Signing Danny Batth Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Pitch imperfect

Ha! How’d ya like them apples, Pompey? Conditions okay for you this time around?

Look, I don’t intend to moan every week about this. But it’s getting to the point now when Sunderland travel away one of my first questions is “what is their pitch like?” such is the need for a bowling green type surface in order to play our best stuff - and that clearly isn’t going to happen at home.

There is a “but” coming through. For once, after Lee Johnson’s men got the first 20 minutes out of their system, the side adapted to the conditions far better than their opponents. They understood the run of the ball better, made more interceptions and generally looked like they wanted it far more. In many ways you can’t blame Pompey - imagine being 70 minutes in and having to wade through mud after Leon Dajaku, with a midweek game in your legs, and on your longest journey of the season.

It was no surprise that Waiblingen’s happiest man made some real hay in the second half.

So the state of the pitch has the potential to be both a hindrance and used to Sunderland’s advantage. If nothing else, it will toughen this group up, forcing them into a scrap by teams that want to try and reduce them to their level - and there’s a few of those teams still to visit the Stadium of Light this term.

There is an understanding that the issue over the playing surface isn’t going to be a quick fix, and although the spring weather might bring an improvement, it’s not exactly going to be like Kew Gardens out there any time soon.

Therefore, Lee Johnson needs a workaround.

And what Sunderland did was give themselves a blueprint as to how to play the conditions - something they have to do another nine times this campaign, whereas their opponents will only get one opportunity to get it right.

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

It wasn’t pretty but it was a vital win - grinding out these type of victories will do Sunderland no harm whatsoever

This was never going to be a goal-fest, given the paucity of chances Portsmouth normally allow their opponents.

It was however a game for players who quietly do their thing, exerting influence without anyone really noticing.

Step forward Corry Evans, who went about his business - second half in particular - in an extremely effective manner. He chased, hustled and harried and recycled the ball almost constantly.

He looked like a man who was always in control.

Very often, these sort of performances are the difference between one point and three, and the calming influence of Evans in the middle of the park stopped Portsmouth - Harness and Curtis especially - from making any real inroads towards the Sunderland backline.

It was only the introduction of Michael Jacobs that really came close to putting the cat among the pigeons but even then Sunderland saw the game out with relative ease, and that was largely down to the Northern Irishman.

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