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Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship

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Talking Points: What changes did we see under new Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray?

Malc reviews some of the main talking points after this evening's fantastic 3-0 Sunderland win at home to Rotherham, in front of new coach Tony Mowbray.

Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The high press continues

Despite a change of head coach, the formation and team were the same as the XI that started at home to Norwich early last Saturday afternoon. The other key trend that continued from Saturday and previous matches was the intense high press applied by the lads right from the first whistle.

In the first 25 minutes especially, the Rotherham back line was harried and hassled into errors and turnovers, with the only missing element being the finish, meaning an early lead was not quite taken. Dan Neil, Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms all had good chances, and my main concern in the first 45 was how many we could create and miss before we could be left regretting the fact.

The hard work continued in the second half, though, and we were duly rewarded within ten minutes thanks to a great finish by Rossco. We built incredibly well from there, as is reflected in all the stats for the match at full time.

I have to say I really love this gritty work ethic and high press that this side has to them. When it is rewarded, as it almost was in the first half and very much was in the second, it looks like a great aspect of our game for this season and for many to come. Long may we continue with this trait.

Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Our changed defence worked well when needed

Despite our dominance for large parts of the first 45, we had to pull out a few important defensive actions to keep it at 0-0 at the break, and the lads did really well when called upon to achieve that. Danny Batth saved our blushes only 11 minutes in after a loose pass to Gooch almost let Rotherham in. Patterson made a couple of good saves too. O’Nien, Batth and Cirkin all played a part and are forming a very well-drilled rear guard trio.

In the second half, especially after we scored, we never really looked under a lot of threat, which shows the difference an early second-half goal makes and how our defensive team are gelling more every week.

It’s great to see this type of resilient defensive performance getting a well-deserved clean sheet. We have to remember that would have arguably have been even stronger with Dan Ballard fit, which he hopefully will be in about six weeks or so.

The truth is our intensity and application prevented Rotherham from creating very much at all, especially after the break, and the little sniffs they got we quashed very well, especially so by O’Nien and Batth, who also came very close to scoring at the other end.

Apart from mid-way through the first half when Rotherham stepped up and around our pressing better, creating the only spell where they got a good foothold in the game, we controlled the game end to end.

That was arguably one of our best showings for some time - a winning performance front to back.

Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light
O’Nien excelled again in defence
Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Never mind SAS, what about CAS?

From the first whistle, Jack Clarke was immense tonight, forcing me to ask whether CAS (Clarke and Stewart) may well be more of a key pairing this season than Simms and Stewart looked to be a couple of games ago.

He had his opponent in knots and on the back foot from the third minute, and even when the Millers switched defenders to try to contain him, Clarke continued to terrorise whoever they stood in front of him.

He created two goals and scored another of them after he made the run to enable the opportunity, in what was a clear man-of-the-match performance for me, and I am sure many others. Jack more than deserved the ovation he took when he was subbed off around 83 mins, about ten minutes after his solo effort was slotted into the bottom corner, following that wonderful mazy attacking run.

There were times last season when Clarke made me question whether he was ready for first-team footy, let alone for us moving up the leagues this season, but this evening's performance was nothing short of magnificent.

What a great acquisition he is, and what a prospect for the future. Clarke and Stewart created all three goals tonight, and may well be as much of a threat to Championship sides as Ellis and our own Loch Ness Drogba. Time will tell, but the signs are very good that we have finally found a new man down the left as good as the likes of McGeady once were.

Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light
Clarke finishes well after a stunning run
Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

A few days rest before Tony heads to Teesside

The lads made up for an unfortunate result at the weekend with a great win tonight in front of our new gaffer, Tony Mowbray. To cap things off, we now have a full weekend of rest before we take on Boro on Monday night on Sky.

With the intensity of our style of play, this will be a welcome rest for the lads, and it will also provide a few days where Tony can get closer to the team to look for any small tweaks he may want to consider. There may well be fringe players (including new signings, which we hope will continue into today) that he may think can be considered to supplement the team. This could especially be the case for the subs bench, which we really need to bolster, as was seen at home to Norwich.

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

Boro have only won one game since the start of the season, so this is a great time for our Teesside-based gaffer to take the lads down to North Yorkshire for more points to be gathered for our cause.

For once, I can’t wait to see our lads run out on Sky, as this team is exciting, resilient, gritty and very capable. I used to worry about us not performing on live TV, but that issue seems a thing of the past, and Boro will not look forward to our visit with the comparative form.

My bottle of whisky bet against my father-in-law, with me backing us to finish in the top half this season versus his call of the bottom portion, that feels very safe right now.

Let’s hope that feeling is right, and we build from this great game and quality performance, both at Boro and beyond.


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