After a stuttering start to 2022, we got back to winning ways against our frustrating opponents from Hampshire.
One of our three January signings (so far) made his debut in the 1-0 win, and his performance gave our back line a welcome look of resolve.
The signing of Danny Batth was one that came out of the blue but was met with overwhelming positivity, and rightly so.
He came with a boat load of experience in both the Championship and League One. His physical build and strength on the ball is exactly the kind of centre back we’ve needed ever since dropping into League One.
Batth showed from the off why he is exactly what we’ve been missing and his organisation of his other defenders undoubtedly helped get us over the line.
Along with Callum Doyle, we have two big, strong centre backs who look composed on the ball. The more Doyle plays and improves, the more I am saddened by the fact he isn’t our player and will inevitably move on to bigger and better things next season.
He is still young, although you wouldn’t think so given the confident way in which he plays, but playing alongside someone like Batth as well as Bailey Wright will be doing Doyle a whole lot of good.
The niggling concern of mine, and probably many a Sunderland fan, is Tom Flanagan. Although he improved on Saturday, it still feels as though a glaring mistake is just around the corner.
The ideal scenario would be, when he’s fit, a back three of Wright, Doyle and Batth. This, with a combination of attacking full backs, would set us up nicely for the run-in.
Having Flanagan and Xhemajli as central defensive cover at this level shows very good depth, and it is squad depth in general that has helped keep us in the race for the top two despite a rotten run of injuries.
If we can get Pritchard, Broadhead, Stewart, Dajaku and co. fit and firing then we will take some stopping, I’ve got no doubt about that.
However, a big part of us getting into the driving seat in this promotion race is keeping the goals out. With the addition of Batth, it looks like we’ve made a big step towards doing that.
Teams above and below have games in hand, but all we can do is keep on winning. It’s now one defeat in 13 and with a trip to Wigan and the visit of Rotherham to come the race for the top two will have plenty of twists and turns over the next three months.
A fit Batth and Doyle will make for a solid platform taking us forward into the spring.