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Watford v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - Vicarage Road

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Roker Roundtable: Has Sunderland's promising start come as a surprise?

After ten league games, we sit in fifth place with fifteen points to our name. We asked our panel for their thoughts on the opening weeks, and which players have caught their eye

Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

Kevin Barker says…

I have to say I’m not surprised at all,

During the first game against Coventry, we settled well and played some great stuff which filled me with confidence. I always felt our quality players would look more at home in the Championship, with the added time on the ball, better pitches and more protection from referees.

I’m being greedy, but if it wasn’t for a freak late goal against QPR and failing to take our chances against Norwich, we could be in the automatic promotion places!

The two players who have really stepped up a level and stood out to me are Jack Clarke and Dennis Cirkin.

Clarke has added a final product to the glimpses he showed last season, and if he can produce every week, he will begin to get admiring glances from the Premier League.

Cirkin was a player I had concerns about during pre-season and I thought we needed a left-back as cover in case he struggled. He has surprised me most with the level of his performances up until his injury.

There’s also Ross Stewart, who showed that whether he plays in League One or the Championship, he will score if given service. It’s exciting times with the pool of young talented and hungry players at the club.

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

Paddy Hayes says…

Massively surprised.

Going into this season, I think the general expectation was relatively sensible: lower mid-table consolidation. Bearing in mind the lack of Championship experience, a young squad, and the notorious difficulty of this league, most would have settled for a fifteenth or sixteenth-place finish.

While we seem to still be riding a crest of a wave following the end of last season, it would be remiss of us to start adjusting our hopes in accordance with how the first six weeks have panned out.

There will undoubtedly be lots of twists and turns still to come, but we should take real confidence in how well we’ve adapted thus far, and how hungry this young, exciting group of players have looked to restore some pride to the club.

I’ve been incredibly impressed with our recruitment, and although the likes of Jewison Bennette, Abdoullah Ba, and Amad Diallo have been reduced to a handful of fifteen to twenty-minute cameos, they’ve been immense.

However, it’s been some of the more seasoned heads that have surprised the most, with Lynden Gooch, Luke O’Nien, and Ross Stewart settling in so effortlessly. There was concern prior to the season that right-back was our most threadbare position in terms of depth and quality, but Gooch has really eased those worries, and has arguably been- with the exception of Stewart prior to injury- our most consistent performer.

There is a case to be made for each and every one of the squad. They have all stepped up to the plate, and special mentions can go out to Alex Pritchard, Dan Neil, Danny Batth, and Corry Evans, too.

We’ve been given reasons for optimism, and we’ve proved we can mix it with the best of them in this league.

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

Malc Dugdale says…

I wouldn’t say I’m surprised by how well we have started the season, but I am happy that some of the gambles we took with new and former loan players seem to have paid off.

We would have obviously preferred no injuries to key players so early, and hence more time for the new squad members to be introduced to a slightly less forced schedule. We cannot control that though, and when called upon the squad has gelled quickly and stood together, performing as well as, if not better than anyone could have asked for.

The players that have stood out for me are probably the same as for most people.

Up front, Patrick Roberts and Jack Clarke have been immense recently, rotating around Alex Pritchard and creating mayhem. The way they have stepped up to fill the void left by the loss of Ross Stewart, followed by the injury to Ellis Simms, has been great to watch.

Amad Diallo and Jewison Bennette have had varying amounts of minutes and have shown a lot of promise too, and the goal for Bennette against Watford will do him loads of good.

In the middle of the park, Jay Matete has shown that he is capable of standing in for Corry Evans when needed, although I wouldn't be surprised to see more holding midfield investment in the new year. Elliot Embleton has really stepped up at times, too, and his performance down at Reading was more integral to our success than some may realise. I’d like to see Embo scoring more, though.

At the back, Daniel Ballard impressed before his ankle injury, and Aji Alese has demonstrated a lot of potential in his covering for Dennis Cirkin, to the point where I’m not sure how easy it will be for Cirkin to come back in.

The good thing is that having both players means we could vary our play by playing both if the game/opponents and tactics demand it. This would allow Clarke more freedom to attack further up rather than being expected to track back. To be fair, he is getting better at that, but he is better suited to taking defences on rather than defending himself.

Elsewhere, I’m really looking forward to Edouard Michut getting some game time, as his reputation is pretty hot. If his output is similar to the others from that half time picture against Rotherham, we could cause even more havoc in this division.

When the injured players return, we should be able to kick into another gear.

Our first ten games have been slightly better than I hoped, but certainly no less than we have deserved. This bodes very well for the games to come- we have achieved nothing yet, but if we keep this up, we will be in a good place come May 2023.

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