Sunderland ended the match with an average age of just 21, and the team did the fans proud!
It’s not often you come away from a match where you’ve just lost your star striker to a suspected long-term injury smiling, but Sunderland’s young side made everyone on Wearside proud yesterday and the feel-good factor is really starting to return.
I found myself jumping around the living room when 15-year-old Chris Rigg’s close-range effort cannoned in off the underside of the bar - what an unforgettable story it would have been if he had become the youngest-ever FA Cup goalscorer!
Regardless of the offside flag ruining that moment, drawing away to a very good Premier League side was an excellent result, even more so when you realise the team that ended the match had an average age of 21 (how old must Danny Batth have felt!).
It was brilliant to see our players hold their own against a set of quality players and we witnessed some absolutely fantastic performances along the way.
Anthony Patterson made TEN saves across the match, with an excellent double save securing a replay at the Stadium of Light. We all know he has areas to develop, but considering he was playing in the National League at the start of last season, he really is repaying the faith put into him by the club.
Moving into defence, Dan Ballard made THAT incredible block in the first half, Trai Hume continues to prove he deserves to number one right-back and was described by Tony Mowbray as a “revelation” post-match, plus it was great to see the return of forgotten man Niall Huggins.
Losing Corry Evans to a season-ending injury was dreadful news, but I think Sunderland fans will find comfort in just how good Dan Neil and Édouard Michut were. Neil wouldn’t have looked out of place in Fulham’s team and the rate at which he has improved his defensive game is ridiculous.
He is becoming more reliable and a more all-around midfielder game by game, which will be crucial moving forward given that Evans played such a key holding role.
As for our PSG loanee, I think we witnessed his best game in red and white so far, I particularly noticed that he seemed to have more bite in the tackle and his through ball for Jack Clarke in the second half should have ended in a goal.
Amad and Patrick Roberts continued their trend of playing a different game to everyone else, although their end product will probably frustrate them and every substitute who came on worked hard for the cause.
We have gone from having a team with little connection to the fans and who provoked a lack of excitement to a group of incredibly exciting young players who none of us can possibly know the ceiling of, which makes it absolutely brilliant!
You could hear live the roar when the team pressed and won back the ball and even if Fulham had stolen it at the death, I think the fans would still have been proud of their young team for giving everything for the badge.
Andy gave the Man of the Match award to Dan Neil - who was your man of the match?
This man #SAFC pic.twitter.com/BQBTDQlphY— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) January 28, 2023
Ross Stewart suffered a suspected serious Achilles injury - how should Sunderland react?
Now that I’ve discussed everything I am buzzing about, we, unfortunately, have to address the one negative of yesterday which was Ross Stewart’s suspected Achilles injury.
I think every Sunderland fan's heart dropped when he went down off the ball. A clear fan favourite and probable Player of the Year winner, Stewart has stepped up to Championship football with ease and it’s not just about his goals either, he is a complete forward.
There’s no doubt that Sunderland are a far better team with the Scotland international in the side and hopefully his injury isn’t as long as initially feared, but only time will tell.
So how should Sunderland react? First and foremost with Stewart, even if worse case he misses the rest of the season, or worse 2023, it would be great if both sides can look to agree on a new contract during his rehabilitation process, as we all know how much of an asset he is and he is a player that everyone would love to stay.
In terms of replacing him on the pitch, the only plus in this awful situation is that thankfully the window is still open.
The signing of Joe Gelhardt was a brilliant addition to the team, but I think it would be an incredible gamble to have just one option at striker throughout the rest of the season.
Whether it be the return of Ellis Simms or another of the club’s targets, Stewart’s absence means that regular first-team football is available and a great challenge of a potential playoff push.
I’d rather the club avoid any late deadline-day overpriced panic buys (see Will Grigg), but someone has to come through the door should Stewart miss the rest of this season - no pressure Kristjaan!
Tony Mowbray reflects on today's #EmiratesFACup draw with Fulham.#SAFC pic.twitter.com/jTOUzEDblV— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) January 28, 2023
The injury list continues to grow - where does it leave Sunderland ahead of transfer deadline day?
It had looked initially looked like an excellent week of strengthening the squad with Pierre Ekwah, Isaac Lihadji and Joe Gelhardt coming through the door, but injuries to Corry Evans and Ross Stewart will most definitely have changed Speakman and Co’s transfer plans.
In those two players, Sunderland have lost two key things, experience and goals (and I don’t mean Corry’s long shots!).
With Stewart, I think we would all welcome the return of Ellis Simms on loan, but I think it would also be a great opportunity to hand a new permanent striker six months of regular football to hit the ground running. Who that will be is likely to be a complete enigma, as many of Sunderland’s transfer targets, like Lihadji, seem to come completely out of nowhere.
Ekwah appears to tick the box of the more powerful athletic midfielder Mowbray spoke openly about wanting, but we don’t have a like-for-like for Evans in a quite defensively focused sensible experienced head.
I can’t see Sunderland deciding to pay for an older head given our new recruitment strategy, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a six-month loan come in to replace that style of midfielder.
Questions are still being asked around the future of Bailey Wright, but with the lack of experience in the squad, it would be more sensible to keep him around as an option given that he is both a leader and well-liked in the dressing room.
Mowbray spoke about the potential issue of having too much inexperience and a lack of leaders without Evans/Stewart etc, so perhaps that could lead to any movement with Wright being postponed until the summer.
If we sign a striker we can consider the transfer window to be a success given that we would have strengthened and not lost any players to sales - which positions would you like to see added before the deadline?