Saturday’s game against Portsmouth was a typical ‘take the three points and move on’ scenario.
It certainly was not the vintage, fluid Sunderland that supporters witnessed in previous encounters in the last few months at home. However, at the end of the day, you get the same amount of points for grinding out a 1-0 over Portsmouth that you do for hammering Sheffield Wednesday by five.
Defensively, there were positive signs, especially in the second half. Sunderland rode out the first half hour Pompey storm, which while short of actual chances and in quality, Danny Cowley’s men owned the ball and caused some issues for the defence. Sunderland held out and continued to improve as the game went on.
Tom Flanagan seemed a little more sure of himself with the extra body at the back, while Danny Baath had as good a debut as one could have hoped for. It is evident that his experience and assuredness will be crucial in the quest for promotion.
Furthermore, his leadership will aid the development of two of Sunderland’s best young players, Callum Doyle and Dennis Cirkin – at times this season, due to their performances, they have looked more so like the players with years of experience behind them.
It is hard not to be impressed by the performances of Doyle and Cirkin thus far this season. It is obvious that they have been nurtured in quality academy set ups like Manchester City’s and Tottenham’s. However, they have also displayed the appropriate bite and doggedness that is necessary for a League 1 promotion battle.
It has been spoken about before, but Callum Doyle plays like a player well beyond his years. With the confidence he possess on the ball, along with his imposing physical stature, he has been a shining light at the back this season.
Rarely has he missed a game or had a bad performance this season. His consistency is somewhat surprising for a player of such a young age, and having that level of maturity in your game at such a young age can only bode well.
With the signing of Baath, it was pleasing to see someone so vocal alongside Doyle. It may possibly give the young defender some assurance to have a solid experienced pro who has won promotion from this league alongside him – allow him to focus on the stronger parts of his game. Lee Johnson will know that Sunderland are lucky to have him. One can only hope that if the club manages to get promoted this season we could hold onto him for another season.
Denver Hume’s sale to Portsmouth must have been great reassurance for Dennis Cirkin. Hume clearly would have been seen as straight competition for the ex Tottenham defender but could not find a way to get the jersey off him.
In my opinion, Dennis Cirkin has the ability to be playing well above this level. Although not the finished product yet, he has been consistently solid throughout this season while showing glimpses of impressive attacking ability.
The key word is consistency. In my mind, Cirkin has not particularly had a poor run of performances. At times he has had some shaky spells in a game, like the first half against Portsmouth last Saturday. That being said, it would be harsh to single him out considering a lot of the players started slowly.
His resoluteness and inflexibility to not falter under pressure has certainly stood out to me. Many full backs see themselves as attacking players and forget their defensive duties. Cirkin has shown the opposite. He is so reliable in one-on-one battles – and it impresses me how many he wins. His last-ditch tackling has also saved the defence in recent games against Accrington and Portsmouth.
The signing of Cirkin has shown to be a shrewd bit of business, As has the loan signing of Doyle. Internationally, both of these players are clearly rated too. While we may encounter difficulties to retain these players for years into the future, it is clear they are crucial to any chance of promotion this season.