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Sunderland v Millwall - Sky Bet Championship

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Roker Roundtable: Assessing Sunderland’s season at the halfway stage

After twenty three games, the Lads are three points off the playoffs during their first Championship campaign since 2017/2018. We asked our writers for their thoughts on the season so far

Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Matthew Crichton says…

Supporting Sunderland is absolute chaos and we often forget to consider just how wild this season has been so far.

We’ve reached the halfway point with thirty one points, we’re closer to the playoffs than the relegation zone, and that’s despite losing our head coach and also playing without a number nine for the majority of the season.

Of course there are things that’ve been frustrating.

We have an inability to hold onto leads at home, we’ve been poor from set pieces and we also endured a spell of one win in eight games, but overall I’ve been pleased that the majority of our players look comfortable at this level, and we should be confident of staying in the division, which is our first goal.

I think Danny Batth has been our player of the season so far, with Ross Stewart only losing out due to his lack of games. I also feel that Aji Alese has been the best value for money transfer and I’m really excited to see if Amad can maintain his recent form heading into 2023.

On the other hand, Edouard Michut has been our most underwhelming signing and I can see him being recalled in January.

Another disappointment has been Leon Dajaku, who’s had far too many ‘maybe’ moments and not enough in the way of end product. It was a rare blunder from Kristjaan Speakman by agreeing to an automatic clause in his loan contract.

My hope is that the club will strengthen in January with two or three permanent additions, and that we can have a more injury-free second half of the season with less drama and more consistency.

I would accept staying in the league so that we can build again, but it would be great to be fighting for a playoff spot come May!

Sunderland v Millwall - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says…

Like Matthew, I’m pretty happy with the season so far, and if I’d been offered this position as we left Wembley in May, I would’ve been more than happy to take it.

Any promoted side generally needs time to adjust to their new level, and we’d been out of the Championship for so long that it was likely to be even more of a challenge for us.

The pace of games is different, the grounds are different, and the quality of the individuals coming at you are all variables that the Lads need to come to terms with and eventually overcome.

As well as the adjustment period, we’ve had a change of head coach and a mass of injuries, but still landed ourselves bang in the middle of the table. We’ve played some very attractive football at times, and it’s often been admired and applauded by pundits and neutrals throughout the football media.

I’d agree with Matthew that Danny Batth was on track to be our player of the season and I also concur with his comments on Stewart and Alese. I’d also add Amad to the list of positives, despite the fact it took him a while to get settled.

Another player who’s really shone is Anthony Patterson.

As a childhood goalkeeper myself, I know very well the pressure that is on you from all your mates and schoolyard bullies alike, as any mistake generally results in a goal against you.

Multiply that significantly and that’s what Patterson’s had thrown at him, but any errors he’s made have rarely put us in trouble.

Regarding improvements, we need to change the mixture of our midfield and add some grit, strength and dominance. We’ve got plenty of flair, but we need to balance it out.

We also need more at the back, especially with Batth injured, and we need more cover up front, because I doubt that we’ll do as well in the second half of the season if we suffer similar injury woes.

There are lots to do but we’re in a great place, and if we stay where we are come May 2023, any fan with a tad of realism and genuine football understanding will surely agree with that.

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Ewan Bowman says…

At the beginning of the season, I think that all Sunderland fans would’ve taken thirty one points at the halfway stage, and it’s been a steady first season back in the Championship so far.

The players that have impressed me most have been Danny Batth, Jack Clarke and most recently, Amad Diallo. Everyone’s contributed and we’ve done well, despite the injury situation.

The one criticism I would offer is that we’ve lost points from winning positions on numerous occasions.

We need to improve our physicality and mental strength as we tend to drop back once we have taken the lead in matches. It’s only a minor criticism but if we’d held on against Coventry, Queens Park Rangers, Burnley, West Bromwich Albion and Hull, we could well be sitting in the top three.

That said, there are certainly more positives than negatives at this stage!

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Paddy Hayes says…

The aim set by the club and the majority of supporters was to secure our place as a Championship side for next season.

Avoiding relegation at all costs would’ve been considered a success for fans guided by realism rather than idealism. Although we’re by no means clear of a relegation dogfight, I can’t help but feel a sense of ‘what if?’.

From Ross Stewart’s absence and Dan Ballard’s broken foot, to being without a recognised number nine for seven weeks, and throwing away leads against Queens Park Rangers and Burnley, there are a lot of unanswered questions.

Like many, I think I’ve allowed what I’ve seen on the pitch to cloud my judgement, which is testament to this young team. Rather than looking over our shoulder at the chasing pack, our eyes are on the teams above us.

After a far-from-ideal opening few weeks, with key players lost to injury and a head coach lost to Stoke, we’ve generally enjoyed a bright start to the season, and I would’ve bitten your hand off to be sitting in twelfth place at the midway point.

Our squad has acclimatised well to the demands of this league, and has risen to the challenge.

With exciting young players coming through and a well-structured recruitment system, it certainly feels like the club is heading in the right direction.

Shoring up the midfield with a real physical presence and solving the age-old right-back issue are areas we need to improve.

Going forward we’ve been brilliant, and in Danny Batth and Ballard we’ve got two top Championship defenders. With little more consistency, I’m sure we’ll have an even better second half of the season.

Sunderland v Queens Park Rangers - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Will Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

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