International breaks can often divide opinion among football fans.
Some enjoy the hiatus from league football and the chance to watch their country on a global stage, whereas others aren’t fond of the two week pause and would argue that it disrupts the schedule of the season.
And so, after six Championship matches in the space of three weeks, another international break is here.
In Sunderland’s case, we’re heading into it on the back of Saturday’s 0-4 hammering by Middlesbrough on home turf, but after a period of immense progress on the pitch.
Nineteen points from our first eleven matches is a good platform to build on, and it proves that we’ve bounced back from last season’s playoff semi-final defeat to Luton.
In many areas, we’re looking better during the early months of this campaign than we did in 2022/2023.
Currently, we have more points on the board (nineteen to last season’s sixteen), more goals scored (twenty to last season’s sixteen), and a better goal difference (+8 compared to +5 ).
So, going into this international break, Tony Mowbray’s side currently sit in a good position in terms of the league table.
However, the disappointment and frustration from Saturday’s controversial hammering will linger for the next fortnight, and given the opposition, probably a bit longer.
After such a heavy recent schedule, as well as playing in two of the three midweek fixtures during this period, now does feel like a good time to pause.
The feeling of deflation on Saturday was emphasised by Mowbray after the game, and following the second half disaster with only ten men, the sooner we taste victory again, the better.
After this break, we’ll return for another game that’s got something riding on it other than the three points. A visit to Alex Neil’s Stoke City allows the team a chance to right the wrongs of Middlesbrough, as well as our 1-5 defeat to the Potters on home turf in March.
The match kicks off another three week run of games before the next international break in mid-November, and on paper, it looks like a tough one.
Trips to Stoke, runaway league leaders Leicester and in-form Swansea City are all tricky prospects, whilst home games against Norwich and then Birmingham City before the next break provides the team with two opportunities to attempt to build some momentum at the Stadium of Light.
For those fixtures, Mowbray is likely to have a stronger squad to choose from.
Pierre Ekwah, Alex Pritchard and Bradley Dack are all set to return to the fold, and there may be a glimpse of Spanish forward Eliezer Mayenda once the season resumes.
With Dan Neil serving a one-match suspension, it opens the door for Ekwah to return to the starting eleven, with the need for a defensive-minded central midfielder apparent following the second half display against Middlesbrough.
The returning players will provide Mowbray with more options, and so the competition for places will increase.
At some stage before the next break, it may be the case that he’ll have four strikers to choose from, after spending much of the calendar year without one.
And so, the international break provides these players with time get back up to match fitness, and it also gives Mowbray opportunities to experiment with and adapt his starting eleven.
Losing to Middlesbrough will hurt, and the scoreline does sting, but if recent experience is anything to go by, there’ll be some reaction when we return against Stoke.
For now though, we’ve got a chance to enjoy some international football, whether you like it or not!