Dear Roker Report,
After a relatively short trip home across Yorkshire, I have had some time to dwell on tonight’s victory over Huddersfield.
The first half was one to forget, other than to be thankful for being undercover in Row R. With the honourable exception of Luke O’Nien, none of the outfield players looked like they were up for it, as the weather deteriorated.
Even the usually reliable Dennis Cirkin suffered from having no outlet in front of him on the left, Elliott Embleton struggled to get into the game and Cory Evans looked a shadow of himself.
The half time introduction of Ellis Simms, and the passing of the storm, undoubtedly began to turn things in our favour but it was the introduction of Dan Neil and Abdoullah Ba which was the game changer.
Ba received most of the plaudits in the post-match social media comments, the energy and directness he brought was obvious. But my opinion is that it was Neil whose contribution was the most influential.
In recent weeks, Dan Neil has become something of a whipping boy for a section of the fanbase. In some ways, it’s a bit of a familiar tale with local players - George Honeyman was another who attracted more flack than he deserved.
For me, Dan Neil has been probably the most improved player of those who have made the step up from the League 1 squad.
He has clearly learned from his red card, early in the season at Sheffield United. His positional awareness has improved immeasurably. This has allowed him to add tackling and interceptions to the undoubted creativity that he possesses. It is that side of the game which appears to have gone unnoticed by many, yet he is rapidly becoming Sunderland’s most complete midfielder.
He is a young player, still only 20, yet time after time he takes responsibility and demands the ball from his more senior colleagues.
Tonight, we struggled to move the ball through midfield, often resorting to long cross field balls with mixed success, particularly in the first half. After his introduction, it was Neil who was willing, repeatedly, to carry the ball upfield, beating a player or two, and propelling the team into Huddersfield’s half.
Yes, occasionally he does lose the ball - but all creative ball carriers do. His decision making around when to carry and when to release is hugely improved, as is his ability to retrieve the situation when it happens.
You only have to look back at his two touches in Jack Clarke’s Goal of the Month at Reading - the deft flick and the precise raking crossfield pass, to evidence his playmaking. But he is becoming just as capable of disrupting the opposition as he is of inflicting damage on them.
He’s one of our own!
Ed’s Note [Rich]: Cheers for your letter, Mike. Neil is undoubtedly a big talent, but he’s still young and still learning. And now he’s got a lot of competition for that midfield spot - Ba did his chances of starting more games no harm in his fantastic cameo and Michut has those silky skills too.
This is good, he needs to be pushed and needs good players around him to make the best of his considerable ability. But you’re absolutely right, there’s nowt better than having one (or more) of our own on the pitch.
I’ve come up with a chant for Danny Batth. It could be shit it could be amazing, I’m not sure. So here it goes, to the tune of Chumbawumba’s Tubthumping:
Ohhhh Danny Batth,
He gets knocked down,
But he gets up again,
You’re never gonna keep him down
Ed’s Note [Rich]: Aye, we’ll have to get that one going at the SoL tomorrow!
You reckon Pritchard is “clearly not rubbish” ok that is your opinion and I agree that I may be in a minority. I must be if all the people near me in the west stand give him a standing ovation every time he is hooked. His scoring record tells me different.
At Huddersfield he played 80 times scored 3 with 2 assists. For us he hasn’t scored for 51 games, this season in the Championship he has played 17 times no goals and 3 assists. The open goal he missed against the Boro when it was still no score was typical. He really is rubbish, get rid.
(Footnote: this was sent before the Huddersfield game)
Ed’s Note [Martin]:
Dear Roker Report,
Re: Prichard in a previous edition of Fan Letters...
Don’t be a silly man... this lad gives 100% every game!
Ed’s Note [Rich]: Too right, James. He’s been on the left wing, up top as a false nine, puts in a shift, gives his all, loves playing for us. That goal on Wednesday was the result of having a player to bounce the ball off and run, more goals will come and the law of averages means he’ll hit the top bins with a free kick sooner rather than later. He’s a top quality player and almost everyone else in the league would love to have him in their squad.