As I write, I find myself still on a high from this weekend’s massive victory over Wigan. Saturday’s game might have only been worth three points but I feel like it could be a part of something much bigger.
Players across the pitch put in top-class performances that should infuse confidence and give momentum to the entire squad. Jay Matete seems a colossal signing and a player with even more potential than he’s shown to this point. Corry Evans seemed the cool head in front of our backline that he was advertised to be when he came into the team this summer.
Ross Stewart bagged two penalties with ease and our wing play was dangerous all afternoon. But, most importantly our defense kept a clean sheet while bullying a front line that’s more used to being the team delivering the blows themselves.
While Arbenit Xhemajli grabbed most of the attention with a stellar league debut for Sunderland, it’s Bailey Wright who deserves the spotlight and he’s got the stats to prove it.
Wright stood tall and strong throughout the full 90’ against a Wigan side that is averaging close to 2 goals a game in league fixtures this season. He won the majority of his headers, threw weak attacking challengers aside, and even helped his teammates keep a cool head with things got chippy down the stretch. At first glance, this performance was a great game for Bailey and the defense as a whole, but when you stop to take a closer look at the bigger picture, our awe over how good Wright is should set in.
He has played 26 league fixtures so far this season. Early on this season he was deployed as Lee Johnson’s security net, to hold on to the points late on in matches. But as the season has gone on, he’s found himself as a very important part of our defense at both center half and right back. And the stats show us just how important he’s been to SAFC’s success this season.
In the 26 league fixtures in which Wright has featured, Sunderland have a staggering record of 16 wins, 7 draws and only 3 losses. For context, in the 9 games in which Wright has not played part, Sunderland’s record, 1 win, 1 draw, and 7 losses. Sunderland are in turn averaging 2.1 points per game with Wright and a dismal 0.44 points per game without him.
Additionally, the Black Cats’ goal difference in games with Wright is 52 goals for, 26 goals against - plus 26 goals. As you can imagine, the goal difference without the Australian international, 9 for, 21 against in nine games, for a total of minus 12.
Before I began researching this, I had a hunch that we’ve played better when Wright has been in the side, but I had no idea that the numbers would be so stark. Our run-in will be the most important one in the club's history.
Getting out of League One this season is of paramount importance. And Bailey Wright seems the man destined to be the key to get us over the line. Keeping him fit and in-form will be a majorly important task for Alex Neil and company between now and the first of May.