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Sheffield Wednesday v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Talking Points: Defeated, but plenty to take from Sunderland’s performance at Leicester

It was always going to be a tough night for the Lads, and they narrowly lost to the high flying Foxes - Malc Dugdale ponders his thoughts after our third loss in a row.

Photo by Ben Roberts Photo/Getty Images

Our defensive solidity for set pieces needs more work

There really was very little in that game, and to say that was the case when we were playing a team who are coasting this division, to lose by one goal in what was a very avoidable way leaves a tad of a bitter taste in the mouth.

The start of the game was really promising, and the Sunderland starting eleven looked way more “on it” than the 11 lads that ran out at Stoke, and who disappointed me in many ways by the end of the 90 minutes.

Sunderland vs Middlesbrough Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It was great to see that we were passing and moving from the first whistle at the King Power, as well as pressing really well when not in possession, and competing in a way many would have thought was not possible after watching the away day to the Potteries.

We then had a bit of a brain fart and let someone who hasn’t scored for two years make a great run around the box to head an unchallenged bullet past Patterson just before the quarter hour mark.

I’m not sure whether we were working with zone defence or man marking or a blend of both, but whatever that was, the team seemed easily confused. The fact that it was not the intelligent movement of a talented striker but a decent bit of footwork by a full back says to me we had to do way more to prevent it.

While acknowledging we need to work on this, I am hopeful that now we are getting the likes of Dennis Cirkin back we can start to play with a more settled defence who can really own our 18 yard box for corners and free kicks. All that said, post the goal we conceded, our heads didn't go down which was a real credit to the lads as a group, especially after a couple of previous no doubt demoralising results. We continued to try to create chances all the way to the final moments of the game, but struggled to test the keeper or get any rewards.

Leicester City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images

We should have had a penalty, had a number of decent chances, and had we come away with a point from that I doubt even Leicester fans could have complained too much.

If there is a good way to lose, that was possibly the best way to do so, especially since it was our third straight defeat. We were very good, and worked our socks off for the whole 95 mins, really taking the game to the Foxes, but we were not quite good enough.

That performance is more than enough for me after what we put out on the paddock last Saturday, and certainly something to build on for the next one.

Anthony Patterson is way better than this division

The young lad in nets for us was immense tonight and more than deserved the player of the match award he was given by Sky TV.

He made about 4 or 5 saves that a number of keepers at this level would not be able to make, and I would argue a couple of them were top end of Premier League quality. He had no right to make some of those stops, and it didn’t surprise me at all that the Leicester attackers were visibly frustrated at times as the match progressed and we had glimpses of getting back into it.

Anthony’s distribution was cracking at times too, and even when he made a bit of a mistake with a mis-hit clearance, he backed it up with a great stop moments later to atone for his error.

Leicester City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - King Power Stadium Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images

People have spoken and written a lot about the risk of losing the likes of Jack Clarke to clubs higher up the leagues with more commercial clout than we can probably turn down, but with performances like that on live TV against a team like Leicester, Patterson is adding zeroes to his price tag with every game he plays.

We will do very well to hold onto Anthony for another couple of years, as his level now and the potential he still has tells me he will be a premier league keeper in the next few seasons. He is better than some stoppers in that top 20 clubs right now.

Like most SAFC fans, I am over the moon for the lad - he is another one of our own who more than deserves the recognition he is getting, and will go all the way to the top for sure.

Welcome back Dan Neil

Having Dan back in the side today was a massive addition to how we played this game and how we almost got something out of it. He is a huge asset to the team, and watching our boys in red and white without him in it is at times like watching any other bang average team at this level, such as the performance we saw at Stoke City.

This does make it even more annoying that he only missed 135 minutes of football due to a very dodgy decision by an official. One and a half games of football ruined and 6 goals conceded, but given his starting berth again tonight, Dan very much showed what we have missed.

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

The balance is simply way more solid in our team with Dan Neil in the side in my view. His partnership with Pierre Ekwah looked like it has been running uninterrupted for a decade at times. If he had his shooting boots a bit more warmed up, he may well have got a couple of shots to really test the keeper, and possibly even a goal.

He isn’t perfect and is still developing and learning every game, but right from the first few minutes when he was putting in cracking tackles to win the ball back to past the 80th minute when he was pushing forward trying to convert our chances around the Leicester box and starting to feel the cramp that his graft had given him, he worked his bloody socks off. He should have gained us a spot kick, if it were not for yet another decision from the officials left wanting.

I really hope Dan stays fit and avoids any more suspensions, as the unseen contributions that he puts in as well as the clear talent he displays are the glue that join up our team in the middle. He is a huge loss when we don’t have him in the starting eleven, and I very much hope that is the last time we see him missing for a significant period.

The end product isn’t happening for some, and changes could be afoot

While it was good to see us start the match with an attacker in the team, it concerns me that the end product simply isn’t happening for players like Mason Burstow. Other players have been rotated out of the squad (and some back in later to decent effect) much sooner when this has been the case, but it confuses me why this hasn’t already happened to the Chelsea loanee. Even more so after his performance at Leicester.

Credit to Tony for putting someone on, as I would rather have that than seeing us toothless while three attackers warm the bench as we did on Saturday, but it is becoming a repeat pattern. It must be the case either very soon or even already that one or two players not getting a start will be getting to the point where they expect to be given a chance, and are wondering why they are not.

Across that match, Patrick Roberts was also quite a frustrating figure for me. He showed some great touches and made some really good runs, but his end product (much like Mason ahead of him) simply isn’t happening of late.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Robert Smith/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

He lost the ball a couple of times in the first ten minutes, and seems to take a couple more touches than he needs to at times. On other occasions, I wonder if he has become allergic to actually shooting, as he has scored some belters in his time with us, but he seems more keen to navigate to a tap-in than take a pot shot we know he can.

With the likes of Hemir, Rusyn and Ba itching to get on, it's not clear how long these lads can continue to start and play without the output being a significant step up. The likes of Ba and Rusyn will only improve if they get match minutes. Ba got about half an hour in place of Burstow tonight, but Rusyn didn’t get on at all. That was in a game where I couldn’t help feel that putting a speedster like Naz on against tired legs may well have brought us some reward.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see more rotation in of others who have been on the fringes after that game, and if I don't, I will be wondering why not.

Final thoughts…

That was a good performance in which we lost to a slightly better team, which sits way better in my mind than the very poor performance that gave away three points on Saturday gone.

Games are coming thick and fast right now, but reflecting back on that match against a team that will likely be promoted by February, if we can play like that against 75% of this league, we will win way more games than we will lose.

Well done to all the lads, as that was a really good effort tonight and we almost got something from it.

If Sunderland don’t win, we fans expect the team give it their all, and we certainly gave Leicester a good few things to think about in that match.

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


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