Brow-raising team sheet
We always scour the socials an hour before kick off in anticipation of the team news. As the clock ticked past 18:45 and the starting XI appeared there will have been many an eyebrow raised. Not at the fact we switched to a back three with wing backs - we anticipated as much given the mini injury crisis in defence, but through the remaining spine of the team.
Hardcore conspiracy theorists will have seen Stewart settling for a place on the bench in the last game of 2022 and used it as evidence that “the regime” is cashing in on him in January. Again, the inclusion of Simms instead shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise given Mowbray’s statement that with three games in six days, the strikers will likely need to be rotated.
Much to my delight, the biggest surprise was a midfield three of Neil (21), Ba (19) and Michut (19). A distinct lack of experience compensated by youthful exuberance and energy. I thought Mowbray may have gone a little “safer” and thrown Pritchard back in from the start with Evans and Embleton missing, but to see such faith in the three youngsters knowing what a physical battle the game would be was a welcome surprise.
Which brings me on to my next point...
Ba, Michut and the ‘Je ne sais quois’
Stylish and suave and classy are all words used in stereotyping French culture - and these two lads were the epitome of all three. Having barely featured by comparison to their fellow midfield colleagues until last night, they both showed us fans exactly why they are here.
Sitting a little deeper, Michut showed a composure and cool way beyond his years, nicking possession back, intricate 1 or 2-touch passes to help progress us up the field and the lad has a turning circle of a 5-pence piece.
Ba by contrast, I’ve not seen a player drive forward with a football with such purpose and positivity since Sessegnon was getting us off our seats. Yes Clarke, Diallo and Roberts have their stepovers and flicks to beat a man, but there is something I find more enjoyable in seeing a player pick up the ball and just drive past players with pace and power.
He was denied off the line and thoroughly deserved a goal for his efforts, hopefully the foot injury he picked up isn't too serious as I’d like to see him have an extended run in the team.
He’s a player who has bizarrely split opinion at times this season, for me he has been great every time he has been given an opportunity - and deserves a special mention for the part he played in last night’s win.
Injuries dictated a change in formation and a slight change in role for Hume but he took full advantage of the opportunity to be more positive, which helped us dominate much of the first half and ultimately led to our first goal.
James McClean is a very attacking-minded wide player but such was Hume’s positivity in his positioning and his performance in possession that McClean was forced further and further back. His gambling at the back post paid off as he was afforded an acre of space to get the ball back across for Simms to nod in from a yard.
Both in attack and defence he was brilliant and thoroughly deserves the plaudits he’ll get after last night’s win.
Spot on Substitutions
Sunderland managers in recent memory have been lambasted for the substitutions they do/don’t make, or for how late they do/don't make them. With that, it’s only fair that the gaffer gets a handshake and a thumbs up from us all for the personnel changes and the timing of such.
Stewart, Pritchard and Roberts all coming on at 60 minutes was a master move from Mowbray. The game had become very open and he could see the opportunities would open up for the trio and get us back on top in the game - and that’s exactly what they did!
Within four minutes the three of them had linked up magnificently for Roberts to draw a foul in the box, and then for Stewart to put it away and retake the lead for us. Pritchard might have had to leave the pitch just 5 minutes after coming on, but he did exactly what we needed him to do to get us back in front.
Roberts in particular was heavily involved in all three of our second-half goals and with Stewart once again on the scoresheet, it’s hats off to Mogga for his changes last night!
Trust the process!
For the vocal minority who are somehow unsatisfied at the club, the owners, the coaches (despite being very much in the playoff hunt in our first season back in the Championship) currently, I hope last night’s match is a very important lesson and eye opener for you in just how far our glorious football club has come along in such a short space of time.
Just seven short months ago, Wigan were crowned League One champions. They were the highest scorers, with the best goal difference and finished on 92 points - not to mention the eight points and four league places above Sunderland. They were our envy as we had to watch Max Power and Charlie Wyke collect league winner's medals whilst we still had the anxious prospect of three playoff games to get through to potentially join them in promotion.
Fast forward one summer and half a season and you will not find bigger evidence as to how far we have come by watching the game and then pondering the league table.
Last year’s champions sit rock bottom of the table, with a new manager, having just taken back-to-back 4-1 defeats and still relying on Power, Tilt, Naylor and Wyke to get them through this league campaign.
Equally Rotherham (League One runners up last year) only fare mildly better as they occupy 20th place - 2 points outside the relegation zone having played a game more.
Scroll up the table and you’ll find Sunderland currently in fourth place, with four wins in their last six league games, despite not having a fully fit squad for 75% of the season.
We are a club on the up, and no matter who comes, who goes or who gets injured, trust the players we have, the process we are going through, and the direction we are heading!