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Plymouth Argyle v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Matchday Musings: Sunderland AFC regeneration project hits a delay

A hugely frustrating defeat down in Plymouth, but the big plan can still take us where we want to be…

Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

They say that things come in threes, and after two exciting announcements during the week, a win for the Lads on Saturday afternoon would have surely been the cherry on the cake.

The film studio and Nissan developments are massive steps forward amidst the continued regeneration being seen in the confident city of Sunderland, where in addition to improved employment options housing stock and leisure facilities are increasing exponentially, and whilst not every supporter of the football club comes from the place it cannot be denied that the two are intrinsically linked.

An attractive area with diverse and quality opportunities brings greater prospects and benefits for all, and the more the place is put on the map the more the team is too.

Thankfully, those within the club appear to be taking a similarly integrated and pre-emptive attitude towards the future. The infrastructure needed to support it may be different, scouting and coaching as opposed to train stations and roads, but it is all about encouraging a positive culture and providing an environment in which people can succeed.

Strides are being made on and off the pitch as progress mirrors that of the wider area, and clear thinking has seen solid structures take shape; on Friday Matty Young became the latest hopeful to sign a professional deal as the management looks to identify and nurture exciting talent.

Rishi Sunak And Jeremy Hunt Make Post-Autumn Statement Visit To Sunderland
Another one roles off the production line...
Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Sadly though, the nature of football means that it can sometimes be difficult to remain positive about tomorrow when the immediate situation is one of defeat.

There will always be bumps in the road with any scheme and losing to Plymouth Argyle highlighted some of the trickiest issues facing the first team right now. This is a difficult stage in the program, and it appears to be the same reoccurring problems that cause negative results when they come – if they score first Sunderland are usually fine, but if early pressure doesn’t turn into goals the side seems vulnerable to a sucker punch.

The trip to Home Park was by no means a gimme. Earlier in the month Argyle announced their own ‘five year plan’ and have been scoring freely since returning to the Championship, but even after a couple of impressive victories in their own back yard they were hardly favourites either, and a team challenging for the play-off spots such as Sunderland would have still been expected to get something.

The fact they failed to do so was down in the main to wasteful finishing.

After a strong start, the Lads can only have themselves to blame – both of Plymouth’s goals were extremely well taken but in terms of chances created Sunderland had significantly more and failed to make the most of them. There were some poor touches in the final third and one or two instances where they struggled to deal with the physicality they came up against, but at 2-0 down with an hour still to play, there was some solace at least in how Tony Mowbray’s men did not buckle.

With the woodwork struck twice you could possibly make the argument that on another occasion the Lads could have snatched something even, but in truth the damage had been done by then. The Pilgrims have at points this season shot themselves in the foot and against a side that can so often pinch the ball in dangerous areas the time to catch them was when it was goalless; instead, they could sit back after the break and made things difficult as the game wore on.

There were long periods of the second half where Anthony Patterson was a virtual spectator, yet he will have surely been as frustrated as the rest of the travelling support as openings came and went.

As well as being sometimes unable to turn such dominance into results, the loss sees another trend continue as the switch between home and away form becomes apparent.

Four defeats on the road so far, when there were only six in the league in total during the 2022-23 campaign, is a bit of surprise, but all is not lost – rather than accept defeat and let things go flat, the players at least kept pushing until the final whistle.

There was also the almost obligatory Luke O’Nien prompted bit of late push and shove, which shows we have a squad that hates to lose, and substitutes Adil Aouchiche and Eliezer Mayenda both look ready for a start should Mowbray want to shuffle things around.

Plymouth Argyle v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Will the line up change on Wednesday?
Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

Wednesday against Huddersfield Town may be the perfect moment to do that, after a long schlep and with another trip down south the follow shortly afterwards.

Performances at the Stadium of Light have been encouraging lately too, so if the Lads get their noses in front they should get something and continue this feel-good factor Wearside is currently enjoying.

Any project manager will tell you that even the most straightforward seeming of jobs will encounter some headaches, but that with focus and a steady nerve, they can be overcome.

The club’s current approach to building a side up over time and with the right foundations is certainly the right one.

Bali Mumba lining up for Plymouth was a reminder of how short-sightedness can catch you out in the long run, but the more sensible planning being adopted now means he will hopefully be an isolated case, whilst in the meantime Sunderland supporters can maybe console themselves that by failing to beat Liverpool earlier in the day, Manchester City were unable to match the club’s fine long standing consecutive home win record.

Without the ultimate hattrick of big new stories that was hoped for, keeping hold of this historical feat is a nice little boost. Our past is a source of pride after all, and pleasingly, our future looks like it can be strong too.

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