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Sunderland v Cheltenham Town - Sky Bet League One

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What’s been Sunderland’s best performance so far this season?

We’re just over halfway through the season, and there have been some memorable performances from Sunderland already - which one do you think has been our best?

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

Gav says... Doncaster away!

I know that might seem a bit strange to anyone reading this, because we’ve won 5-0 three times this season, but just being in the stands and watching the way we moved the ball around that day was a joy to behold.

We took full advantage of the fact Doncaster were out of form and missing some crucial players by passing from side to side, cutting them open with ease and completely bossing it - all while over 4,000 supporters took over the ground and took the piss, a bit like the players on the pitch.

I’ve never seen Sunderland look more comfortable in possession of the ball, from back to front. Our defenders all played like cultured central midfielders and weren’t flustered by anything Doncaster could throw at them, whilst Evans and Neil in the centre of the park played at their own pace, dictating proceedings.

Then moving into attack, Pritchard and Embleton were on the same wavelength and absolutely rinsed Doncaster, time after time, with the big man up top Ross Stewart bossing all three of their central defenders.

It was a performance that reminded me a lot of going away during the Roy Keane (2006/07) and Peter Reid (1998/99) promotion seasons, where the fans rocked up in numbers to watch their team systematically dismantle a vastly inferior opponent with ease. That for me is about as good as it gets from a fan stood watching in the stands’ perspective.

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

Rich Speight says... Wycombe at home!

I think this game, early in the season, demonstrated the potential of this Sunderland squad overall and gave me the belief that this squad is a very different prospect to the one we’ve seen in the last few seasons.

In League One, games against Wycombe have become a bit of a litmus test for the way we’re playing. They’re simply an awkward outfit who try to not let you play football, but we battled well and managed to get a good win in the late summer sunshine.

Lee Johnson’s second home win against Gareth Ainsworth came just before the transfer deadline closed, but showcased the potential of young signings from the Premier League, Dennis Cirkin and Callum Doyle. I was so impressed with them both, their quality was clear to see even if they had their moments where their inexperience was apparent.

We saw the dangerousness of Ross Stewart who scored with both his head and his feet, and how our neat interplay can create opportunities for our talented supporting forwards - with Elliot Embleton beautifully curling in a left-footed shot from the edge of the box.

There was also an optimistic atmosphere in the ground - the crowd were excited to be back in the ground and, on a personal level, after so long away from the SoL it was a pleasure to see the Lads play in person and win a game that many had penciled in as a banana skin.

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

Matt Smith says... Arsenal away!

OK, a 5-1 battering may not seem like the obvious choice and we’ve undoubtedly played better but this was a performance that unequivocally demonstrated the extent to which a cultural change has become embedded within the club.

We expect a hatful of chances to be created against the likes of Morecambe, no offence intended, but to bring that same philosophy of play to Arsenal suggests a degree of bravery verging on madness.

Sunderland sides of old would bring a world-weary cynicism to such games, getting men behind the ball, prioritising defensive shape over attacking flair and hoping to hit blatantly superior opponents on the break or simply run down the clock to earn a hard-fought draw. And when it worked we loved it.

Things are different now. Although the free-hit nature of the tie granted the players a platform to express themselves, the brazen unwillingness to compromise core principles indicated that these players will be given a licence to thrill irrespective of the opposition and the scoreline.

It also suggested that such an approach would prove positive to the young players’ development and that the experience, even for young shell-shocked defenders, would prove instructive rather than chastening.

Given the performances and results since this game, and the added bonus of no external distractions as fixture backlogs pile up due to Covid postponements, the Arsenal game provided the confidence that our attacking play can worry sides way above the standard of our League One rivals.

Arsenal v Sunderland - Carabao Cup - Quarter Final - Emirates Stadium Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says... Sheff Wed at home!

People may think this is due to proximity in time and remaining emotions when I nominate the home thrashing of Sheffield Wednesday, but it really isn’t - it was one of the most complete performances since our decline started 4/5 years ago for me.

Wednesday were unbeaten in about a dozen games and had one of the best defensive records in the league until they pitched up at our gaff, and we made them look like a Sunday league outfit. We could have scored 8 and it wouldn’t have been disproportionate. We were absolutely awesome.

We started the game by showing them we would not be bullied out of playing football too, demonstrating that this aspect of our skillset is no longer something people can use against us. Wright was immense as were his defensive mates. They weren’t very troubled, but that was due to our actions as much as Wednesday's poor showing.

We also ran the midfield for all but the first ten minutes, but unlike some of our good spells of the past, we did so with control, class, creativity and purpose. Literally, every midfield move felt like it could result in a chance on goal, with Neil, Pritchard, Embleton and even Evans all more than playing their part. When we lost the ball we fought for it back and pressed like mad. It was a joy to watch.

Up front, we were simply unstoppable, with the timely resurgence of Stewart calming the nerves of all those fans who winced when Broadhead limped off. A perfect Hattie for Ross and goals for others too, including Benji who will thrive on that for many games to come.

If we play like that at home for the rest of the season, we will go up either first or second, I have no shadow of a doubt. That game was a real significant step, a turning point when we finally stepped up and took the league lead given the chance to if we won, and boy did we win.

I’m really looking forward to the rest of the campaign, as this time we appear to have the best chance of all to go up and continue to thrive. And if we are really lucky, there will be 6 black and white points waiting for us in the championship when we get there.

Happy 2022!

Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Kev Campbell says... Cheltenham at home!

On the day, we finally did what fans have been waiting for us to do since we’ve been in this league - absolutely pelt a side well below us in size, stature, and strength; a sign that maybe this year, after all, was going to be different.

We saw vintage Aiden McGeady, whipping balls in with perfection for possibly one of the last times in his waning career. We saw a double from Ross Stewart - with great link-up play up front with Nathan Broadhead in his first league start (may they return swiftly). Dajaku showed us a glimpse of what was to come with his debut goal for the club off the bench. Bailey Wright scored a rare goal. And, I got to witness one of my favorite things in the whole world - a Luke O’Nien goal celebration.

Say what you want about him, but there’s no doubt he loves the club.

Beyond the game, we saw a style of play was beginning to show itself, and a changing of the guard was happening without us knowing it. Bailey Wright’s confidence gained with his goal has been built upon allowing Winchester to move to midfield in O’Nien’s absence. Pritchard came off the bench as he continued to work his way into the first team. The press was getting better with every game and was played as well as it had been all season to that point.

Granted, some poor form has followed since this performance, but that’s the ebb and flow of a season. The Cheltenham game was a flawless performance and a turning point for the club at large.

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