Where on earth would we be without Jack Clarke?
I dread to think! Whilst undoubtedly we are a team of very good young footballers, none operate as more of a crutch to the side as Jack Clarke does.
If you were to plot a graph with Clarke’s match rating on one axis, and match results down another, the correlation would be striking.
When Clarke is “on it”, it invariably results in an impressive team performance and a positive result. Conversely when we have lost or been unconvincing, the analysis usually includes a comment that Jack was off his game, or that the opposition did a very good job of keeping him quiet.
Thankfully, it was the former against Norwich. Not only did he do his duty in dispatching his penalty for the third goal, his work on the ball (and off it when winning the penalty) was the root of pretty much everything positive in our attacking play.
On one hand it’s fantastic to watch him perform in a Sunderland shirt, on the other, does it make us a little easier to work out and play against currently?
The rot has been stopped…
Three defeats on the bounce was causing quite the stir amongst sections of support. We’d become so accustomed to our boys dominating games and blowing away opposition that for it to stop so abruptly sent us into a bit of a spin.
Nonetheless, it’s ironically a 3-1 victory (albeit this time at the SoL) that puts the Sunderland playoff back on its tracks. Sure Norwich made it as easy as they could - even at 2-1 down giving up both possession and territory not seen since the fall of the Third Reich, but for me and I’m sure all those reading this, we couldn’t care less at the moment.
There are a few things we still need to tidy up, Norwich did their best in the attacking third to not win the game and a better team would have pulled themselves at least level.
After the run we’ve had, we are all just glad to get back to winning ways, aren’t we?
Special mention for Dan Neil
Let’s spare a moment to talk about Dan Neil in the last couple of games.
He has bounced back from the disappointment of a quite ridiculous sending off against ‘Boro to put in arguably his two most influential performances this season.
Two “watercooler moments” in particular stand out for me; firstly his run into the box and finish for his goal, and then the perfectly timed sliding challenge to win the ball back as Norwich were breaking in numbers at 2-1 up.
One will naturally come with more acclaim than the other, but both are indicators of class when it comes to a midfielder. Roy Keane recently said that when it comes to the middle of the pitch, there is no such thing as a defensive or an attacking midfielder, and that the very best in the position do both and get box-to-box.
On that metric, we can say with some confidence that our boy is one of the best in the division currently!
So ends a frustrating October for the Lads.
As we enter November back to winning ways, we can look forward to hosting Birmingham and Huddersfield, as well as trips to Swansea and Plymouth.
We have the opportunity to try and put another good run of results together as we look to become a little more wedded to a playoff spot. At the time of writing, we’ll be playing 13th, 14th, 19th and 21st respectively in November. For me that should be an undefeated run of games and 10 points to add to the tally, but with every other team outside of the top two so hit and miss with results, what would be an acceptable return for November?