Bright and early
All these 12:30 kick off times Sunderland are getting lumbered with are becoming a pain, but give the players their due – they were right at it from the start in this one.
The Lads could have easily been two or three up within the first 30 minutes or so, and it was only in the closing stages of the first half that needless errors started to come in.
We got back on top after the second half went on and of course that is the main thing, but it is frustrating to lose so many traditional 15:00 fixtures as not only does it impact on local businesses, etc., but the matches can often be a bit flat.
We always win 3-1
In the end Sunderland could have scored four or five, yet the fact it finished in another 3-1 tells us where they are as a team – the side is an absolute dream to watch going forward but does have one or two issues in defence still that need work.
Most of the problems were of their own making and least the desire was there to try and atone for any errors or get each other out of the mud, but when you are selecting such a youthful side these spells are going to happen in games and it is important nobody lets their head drop.
When the Lads settle things down and cut out the sloppiness they are hard to live with, and that third goal in particular saw some real quality from those involved.
It is entertaining to watch and with scope to improve further, this is a good place to be.
Captain & Dan Neil
Most people expected Dan Neil to be handed the captain’s armband and when it was decided that he would skipper the side I am sure it meant the world to him.
He seems to love playing for his boyhood club and his performances and attitude since he broke into the first team mean it is fully warranted, and when you think back to periods in our recent history where certain players acted as if it was a chore to turn out in red and white this is much more encouraging to see.
There wasn’t just him in the running though either – players like Trai Hume and even Anthony Patterson, if you don’t mind a keeper getting it, have come into the starting XI and established themselves as dependable performers, who even though still young have good temperaments and will always give you 100%.
It is understandable why Luke O’Nien remains the right choice for now, but behind him there are some very good candidates and regardless of who does the pleasantries ahead of kick off and what have you, having players setting an example and behaving like leaders is massive.
Obviously, Neil being a Sunderland fan growing up gives him an extra connection and that may have been part of Tony Mowbray’s thinking, but the whole ethos seems to be improving compared to that time when some regulars would have struggled just to pinpoint Wearside on a map – in this last week alone I have seen four different players in a city supermarket (two men’s players and two women’s players) and then on Thursday I spotted one of our mainstays in Mowbray Park with his partner taking in the Festival of Light.
What happens on the pitch is obviously the most important issue, but having people who want to be here and want to be part of the community does matter to the fanbase too. We have a likeable bunch that are easy to get behind, and watching them progress is a pleasure.
Changing it up
Not all of the changes at Swansea City last Saturday worked out, but against Birmingham City the switches and substitutions had a lot more impact.
The last minute shuffle caused by Dennis Cirkin’s continued bad luck could have very easily scuppered the plans, and we don’t really know whether those still involved had been working on an entirely different defensive formation during training, yet whilst his replacement Nectar Triantis needed time to find his feet he still made a vital contribution for the second goal.
It is understandable that he was a bit shaky at times when you consider this was his first league start and was at short notice, but alongside Jenson Seelt, who himself had been handed a tricky assignment, they got through it and showed some promising signs.
One of this squad’s biggest assets is its adaptability in terms of positional changes and you had individuals like Jobe, Hume and Niall Huggins in the latest team that can do a job in different roles. Hume for example, who has recently been given license to pop up in midfield, was having to play a much more traditional full back role but was still as happy as ever slide tackling all comers.
Then there was the in game changes and these helped get Sunderland over the line; Abdoullah Ba displayed some lovely touches once up to speed and Mason Burstow appeared to have found another level, whereas the other two substitutes, Adil Aouchiche and debutant Eliezer Mayenda, are hugely exciting.
The pair are both back now from injury and they’ll be itching to get more minutes, just as the fans will be keen to see more of what they can do.
Staying ‘til the end
This is a regular topic of conversation and yes, people have the right to do what they want, but then again others have the right to question it, so why do so many people leave early?
We’ve got a side that is out there giving its all, and playing attractive football to boot, and yet it still isn’t enough for some to wait until the game is over and give them a well deserved reception.
Home form is slowly but surely improving, that is two victories on the bounce and three out of the last four, but this has been an issue for years now anyway and is something that still puzzles many.
There are of course those with genuine reasons to get away sharpish, but for a bit mad for others, often invested enough to be clad head to toe in SAFC clobber, and was once again evident against Birmingham - I dare say some of them couldn’t even explain why they do it, so ingrained it seems, but it will remain a head scratcher when getting away from the Stadium of Light is a doddle compared to other grounds and puts those dropping an early shoulder at risk of being short changed.
This culture of leaving early is surely a blow to somebody like Tony Mowbray, who works hard and tries to give supporters a winning team.
Mind, that said, invariably a lot of those heading off are the same ones that have been calling the players all the names under the sun or have spent the previous 80 minutes loudly displaying a complete lack of knowledge of how the game is played, so perhaps it is better for everybody that they do nash off.
I’m not sure I want to be around two faced folk that are boorish one minute then giving it big licks the next anyway; the club already has their money after all, so best that one or two duck out and leave the other supporters to do just that – actually support the team.
Next week’s to do list
It is always good to go into a break on the back of a win and it will be nice to see Sunderland’s various international’s out there giving a good account of themselves.
For those remaining on Wearside though the focus could do with turning to Patrick Roberts and sorting him out with a new deal, even if just to protect the club from missing out on a transfer fee – not that losing him is something I would want to see.
We could all manage without another January transfer window saga I’m sure and here we have somebody of rare technical ability reportedly keen to stay, so if things are not already progressing behind the scenes now is the time surely.
Roberts was getting kicked to bits against Birmingham but still kept going at them, and even on an off day his presence means space for others, so a bit of security on both sides would feel like a positive step.