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Bristol City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Talking Points: Sensational Simms, worrying wingbacks and... Lee Howey’s crack

Three points in the bag, and our season’s up and running. But what were the key talking points from the game?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

A brilliant result, and excellent performance. Get in!

Nothing’s decided yet and there’s a hell of a long way to go, but I was really impressed with our performance and result yesterday against what is a good Championship team. We didn’t look at all out of place, we’ve got a great manager and a talented squad that will be added to over the coming weeks. It’s heartening to get some points on the board early – I think we’d have all settled for four from the first two games – and gives us something to build on.

We weren’t afraid, we went for it, stood up to pressure and came away with a deserved win.

Defensively we looked a bit shaky at times, but in reality there won’t be many games that the opposition doesn’t have spells when they cause us problems. We stood up to it well, and bar one routine save Patterson barely had a thing to do. He stood up well to crosses in the main, flapping at one and getting away with it, and Ballard, Batth and Cirkin guarded him well. Ballard’s block near the end was just brilliant.

Bristol City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
That block from Ballard (right) was brilliant
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Ellis Simms could be a stunningly good signing

I don’t know about you, but I was certainly surprised when Ellis Simms was named in the starting XI – but we know it’s virtually impossible to pick Alex Neil’s team, and so it proved again.

After last week’s game, I thought he would shuffle the midfield a little in an attempt to get more control of the game, and we did, but in a very attacking way.

When we talked to Hearts and Blackpool fans upon Simms’ signing they both mentioned his ability to get shots off early, and we didn’t have to wait long to see evidence of that. He took both of his goals really well, could have had a third but for a great save from Bristol City’s keeper, and also should have had a pen. Which we’ll come onto shortly...

We’ve been hoping for Nathan Broadhead all summer, but Simms could be the real ace in the pack.

Bristol City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Simms gets his shots off early - and that could be hugely valuable for us
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Work rate and positive attitude provides a strong platform

Alex Neil’s teams typically dash have a good pressing game and attacking attitude, and we saw that in spells yesterday.

As a team, we have a load of goals in us but maybe lack a bit of defensive nous, and yesterday it seemed as if we went out with the approach of outscoring the opposition. After we scored the first we stopped pressing for a while and let City back into it, but in the second half we controlled the game and could have won by more.

Unnatural wingbacks a high-risk strategy

It does puzzle me as to why we’re playing with wing-backs when we don’t have any specialist players to play there. Lynden Gooch was caught out a few times in the first half, while on the other side Jack Clarke looked vulnerable when put to the test defensively.

To be fair to the pair they’re not natural wingbacks, and I can’t believe Clarke’s been signed to play wingback in the long term. I suspect it’s a ‘needs must’ at the moment, and it’s working, but I don’t see it as a permanent thing without signing two specialist wingbacks.

I actually think Clarke’s been one of our most dangerous players in the opening two games going forward, however, Bristol City were targeting our wingbacks and got a certain amount of joy down the flanks. Other teams will see that weakness and exploit it more than Bristol City were able to do.

Bristol City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
What’s Alex Neil’s thinking with Gooch and Clarke?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Stewart off the mark early and Pritchard the talisman

I’m particularly interested in how Stewart does this season, and it was great to see him get off the mark with a great header from Pritchard’s beautiful ball in.

Stewart set up Simms’ first goal with a great challenge and benefited from being paired with an additional striker.

Pritchard had a cracking game, and can really be a talisman for us this season.

He had moments in the first half – one ball through to Clarke, in particular, was a thing of beauty – but dictated the second half and was the reason why we won. Ironically, he could have done better for Bristol’s second goal – he let his man run off him – but really took the game by the scruff of the neck and was instrumental in the victory.

Bristol City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Get in Ross!
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Ref, man

After four seasons of League One refs, I did hope we’d see a step up in quality of the officials, but two games in and that seems wishful thinking.

The ref last week penalised us on every possible occasion and didn’t treat our opponents in the same way, and yesterday we were denied a nailed-on penalty when Simms was dragged back after getting on the wrong side of his man.

It was clear as day, and how we didn’t get it I’ll never know. Before the match, City manager Nigel Pearson called for VAR to be used in the championship – around 4.30pm he would have been pretty pleased it hasn’t reached the second tier yet.

Bristol City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Simms scores his second, and should have had a penalty, too
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Let’s not get carried away though...

Not to put a dampener on anything, but just a word of caution here.

It’s three points, it’s promising, we played well. But the last time we were in the Championship we started the season with very similar results - a 1-1 home draw and then a 3-1 away win at Norwich. And we all know what happened there.

This feels different though – we’ve got a team that’s been purposely built and structured and a manager who’s a class above what we had then. But you know, let’s not get ahead of ourselves..

Lee Howey and Dan Godfrey – a cracking new combo!

Finally, I’m not sure what’s going on with the SAFSEE commentators – we’ve had a variety in pre-season, and yesterday had Lee Howey and Sunderland’s media manager Dan Godfrey on the mics. I know commentary is very much a personal preference, but for me, these two are by far the best of the bunch – they’re streets ahead and added so much to the enjoyment of watching the game.

Dan Godfrey showed a great understanding of football and Lee Howey is just brilliant – the perfect co-commentator for a club channel. If we have those two in position all season, we’ll have improved off the pitch and on it. More of the same please, Sunderland.

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