clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Sunderland v Blackburn Rovers - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light

Filed under:

Talking Points: Returning players and individual brilliance make it a job well done for Sunderland

In a game Sunderland dominated, they won it in the sweetest way - and now the only way is up!

Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Returning players make the difference

Wasn’t it such a pleasure to see Ross Stewart and Dan Ballard back in the starting lineup?

We saw them make the sort of difference which underlines their importance to the side.

Stewart’s defending from the front, his link up play and his ability to occupy three men at once - thereby bringing others into space - is invaluable.

He relishes playing in tight spots, and operates with incredible intelligence, something highlighted when he won the penalty, stepping in ahead of Buckley, drawing the foul.

There are very few others in this side who can emulate the attributes he has.

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

Ballard, meanwhile, was an absolute class act at the back, aside of course from his foul leading to the Blackburn goal.

His aerial ability, and the classy way in which he both retrieved possession and then proceeded to play the ball intelligently was a clear indicator of what sets him apart from your run-of-the-mill Championship central defenders.

He complimented Luke O’Nien perfectly (more on him later) and will make Danny Batth feel very nervous about his prospects of regaining his place - an unthinkable prospect prior to the Hull game.

The downside of course is this all highlights just what we have been missing - and what might have been.

Mowbray’s bold subs pay off

On more than one occasion since he took over, Tony Mowbray has found himself criticised for his game management, and in particular his substitutions.

Well, not today.

It may have raised eyebrows around the Stadium of Light as his changes on 80 minutes signalled one clear thing - we’re going for this.

They were in no doubt a response to Blackburn’s substitutions prior, with Jon Dahl Tomasson admitting after the match they lacked experience off the bench, limiting the changes he could make.

However it showed the away team had very few options whereas Mowbray for perhaps the first time in his time here had exactly that - and therefore why not take a chance? Fortune favours the brave after all.

He could argue with some justification that his options have been severely limited because of injuries and that has to a large extent dictated what decisions he could make, but not today. He rolled the dice and he won.

Sunderland v Blackburn Rovers - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Luke O’Nien - my man

He plays in the sort of way I think we all wish we could in a Sunderland shirt. He’s the competition winner who happens to be absolutely brilliant at not just football, but all the trimmings that come with it.

His second half performance was a joy to behold. Working in tandem with Dan Ballard was like watching a masterclass in how to marshal a well-drilled attacking force in Brereton Diaz, Gallagher and Dack. They were limited to essentially nothing for 90 minutes.

The fact that he has come from midfield, and latterly full back, means that he’s not just a head-it-out-get-it-out defender, but he can play with the ball too. Time and again this season, and again against Blackburn, his ability to drive with the ball, and push the team 10 yards further up the pitch is invaluable; if nothing else it means Sunderland’s attacking players do not have to drop deep to receive the ball and can therefore wield more influence in a more advanced role.

Mowbray was effusive in his praise of him after the match; “I don’t think I’ve ever managed a better human being than Luke O’Nien. He overworks our coaches at times. He’s an amazing kid.” High praise indeed.

I made a comment last season that if you do not understand his role on the pitch, then the truth is you know nothing about football - I consider that view to be well and truly vindicated by his recent performances.

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

Amad, frankly, took the mic

Good news - Amad is class.

Bad news - there’s no way he will be playing in Sunderland next season.

Though he didn’t score or assist, Amad’s all-round play almost made me giddy; he makes everything look as easy as falling off a log. The way in which he moved the ball across the pitch, his first touch, his ball retention, his ability to bring Gooch and Roberts in particular into play. Well, it all just screamed Premier League quality.

At one point in the first half, he went down under a challenge from a Blackburn player. The groan around the stadium was audible - and that signalled just what Ivorian contributes to this side, and the fans know it.

I’m starting to get the feeling he might produce something in the spring which helps to elevate this side to another level - Amad without a doubt has the x-factor.

We should enjoy this mercurial talent while we can, because there is no doubt it is very much a temporary arrangement.

Sunderland v Blackburn Rovers - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Lee Parker - CameraSport via Getty Images

Sunderland must decide once and for all what type of side they will be this season

The late winner means this is very much an upwardly mobile side, looking towards the playoffs rather than over their shoulder.

The truth is, it’s always really been this way. It makes me wonder, given there is a core of League One players in this squad still, were we horrifically mismanaged until Alex Neil came in? Probably not quite that, but underachieving? Absolutely no doubt about it.

This team should have no fear, and it is not arrogance to suggest that if key players stay fit from now until May, as well as one or two shrewd additions next month, then they could well find themselves in the playoffs come the end of the season.

Putting a consistent run of form together over the next 10 games would go a long way to establishing themselves as contenders for the top six.

Where does everyone go after 85 minutes?

A quick one but a really important question - where on earth do people go with five minutes to go?

If you are one of those people who bugger off early - missing an absolutely glorious moment like today - can you comment below to say why you do it?

I mean this with great love - if you leave early you are insane. You are depriving yourselves of one of the great joys of watching football.


On This Day (27th February 1999): Turn on and tune in, but only once you’ve paid up


Talking Tactics: 3-4-3 Blind Mice scared stiff by the Swans


With a huge game to come against Southampton, let’s give the Lasses maximum support!

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Roker Report Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Sunderland news from Roker Report