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Stoke City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - bet365 Stadium

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Talking Points: Has Dennis Cirkin found his permanent home at left centre back for Sunderland?

Following Sunderland’s 1-0 victory over Stoke on Saturday, Matty Crichton discusses the performances of Ross Stewart, Corry Evans and Dennis Cirkin!

Photo by Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images

With one goal contribution per game so far this season, Sunderland simply MUST agree on a new contract with Ross Stewart!

Last season people questioned whether Ross Stewart could adequately replace Charlie Wyke. He did. This season people questioned if he could maintain his levels in the Championship and already I think it is safe to say he has proven he can compete at this level.

With three goals and two assists, including Saturday’s winning goal, the Scot has been an absolute handful for defenders and has continued to display just how brilliant a find he was by our recruitment team.

The only sticking point? His contract. The 26-year-old current deal expires at the end of this season and the last thing Sunderland need is another Maja-esque scenario heading into January.

If Stewart maintains his current performance levels, more and more teams are going to identify him as an excellent option given his low wages and ending deal, which will only end in Sunderland having to pay more wages or losing the player.

It seems as though the player is happy at the club and the fans absolutely love him, but it is crucial that Sunderland can secure their best assets long-term to prevent any progress we make from being hampered by losing players.

Stoke City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - bet365 Stadium
Ross Stewart scored his 32nd Sunderland goal in his 70th appearance on Saturday.
Photo by Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images

Following on from his QPR display, Corry Evans was brilliant when he came on against Stoke!

After Sunderland had taken the lead against the run of play, we needed added calmness in midfield to help secure our first clean sheet of the season and the man who provided that was our captain, Corry Evans,

After an inconsistent start to the season, Evans has been absolutely brilliant against QPR and Stoke and you would have to say he was missed against Sheffield United.

In what is a very young midfield and group of central midfield options, the ex-Blackburn midfielder brings a calm defensive-minded head, which is invaluable in away games where we need to be sensible and not over-commit.

When he is on his game, Evans does the simple things wonderfully, such as interceptions, ball retention and defensive positioning.

Of course, he struggles going forward (that half-volley aside), but that is not his game. He is the midfielder to sit and protect whilst your Dan Neils and Elliot Embleton’s make things happen.

Ahead of facing another relegated side in what will be another tough test, I think Evans is a must-starter given his current form.

Sunderland received SIX yellow cards against Stoke on Saturday - do you think Sunderland look less of a soft touch under Alex Neil?

Under Lee Johnson, Sunderland were perceived as a side that played wonderful football, but who were fragile and vulnerable to physicality and a team who would crumble under intense defensive pressure.

That has completely changed under Alex Neil, as the team are now far more resilient and more willing to get stuck in.

Of course, yellow cards in most scenarios are not positive and do prevent players from committing to challenges as they usually would, but I think this group of players are showing that they are willing to battle for every ball and are fighting to win possession back at all times.

In previous seasons, I think you could definitely say that Sunderland have been too nice on the field, whereas under Neil I feel we have added bite and teams know they’re in a game.

The likes of Corry Evans, Luke O’Nien and Jay Matete you can always bank on receiving a caution because of their commitment to try and win every challenge.

Even in other scenarios where a tactical foul is required, I think the team overall are far more streetwise now (aside from Dan Neil’s naive red card last week) and that is needed especially when you’re a promoted side coming up against many superior sides.

The away performance at Sheffield United was a brilliant example of how much Sunderland has evolved since Alex Neil’s appointment. That same team 12 months ago would have lost 4/5/6-0 after dropping to ten men.

Alex Neil has played Dennis Cirkin regularly at left centre back - has he found a new permanent position?

“OK, he’s 17, but he’s a kid with a lot of quality, and I look forward to bringing him to train with us, and to help his development.”

Back in 2019, Spurs Manager at the time, Jose Mourinho, said the above about Dennis Cirkin and I think the start of this season has shown that we have a player on our hands.

Since his switch to playing on the left side of a back three, the England under-20 international has thrived, as his attributes suit that position better.

Cirkin lacks pace which prevents him from thriving as a modern wing-back, but what he does have is both excellent technical and defending abilities.

On the ball, he can step in or distribute the ball into good areas and defensively he was simply superb against Stoke, dealing with absolutely everything against him.

He was Sunderland’s clear man of the match yesterday and I think it is a position that should be now seen as his.

Last year, zero goals and two assists showed his offensive limitations, so I think this position allows him to thrive at what he is best at, enabling Sunderland to play a more attacking option like Jack Clarke who is deadly when isolated in wide areas.

The fact that nobody is talking about missing Callum Doyle shows just how well Cirkin has performed so far this season.


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