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Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship

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Talking Points: What were the key things to take from Sunderland’s return to winning ways?

After a turbulent week, the Lads responded with a superb home victory the Baggies. Phil West looks at the day’s main stories

Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A turbulent week ends on a high

In the seven days since our draw against Millwall, which ultimately proved to be the final act for Tony Mowbray on Wearside, Sunderland have drawn Newcastle in the FA Cup, faced a multitude of questions about what went wrong and whether ‘the model’ is flawed, and embarked on a search for a new head coach that’s set to extend into next week.

It was therefore a major fillip to see the Lads respond with a performance of control, skill, aggression and no small amount of raw, unbridled passion on a cold December afternoon at the Stadium of Light.

With Mike Dodds holding the fort until Mowbray’s replacement is confirmed, the players needed to demonstrate that recent results weren’t truly reflective of their ability, and despite heading into the game with confidence low amid a run of poor form, they delivered in spades.

From a purposeful performance from Adil Aouchiche to a simply colossal display from Trai Hume and a more effective contribution from Patrick Roberts (albeit without scoring), the players seemed galvanised and determined to put things right after one of the toughest weeks any of them would’ve experienced since signing for Sunderland.

Granted, the visitors were disjointed at times (in stark contrast to this fixture last season, where we simply didn’t perform on an equally freezing day) but Sunderland’s display on Saturday served notice that our objective of a top six finish remains very much alive, and that these players aren’t anywhere as bad as recent displays might’ve suggested.

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Alex Pritchard shows his quality

One of the most hilarious and frankly absurd recent whispers was that Kristjaan Speakman was attempting to influence team selections and that the mercurial Pritchard was falling victim to a policy of opting for the youngsters wherever possible.

Suffice it to say, that theory was shot firmly in the backside on Saturday, as the former Huddersfield playmaker entered the fray in the second half and duly set up Dan Ballard for the opening goal before playing in Dan Neil for the homegrown midfielder to make it 2-0 with a delightful dinked finish.

His overall performance was excellent and in a game that was gradually getting tighter as the clock ticked by, he was able to provide the point of difference that enabled us to unlock the Baggies and set us on the way to victory.

Regardless of whether attempts to offload Pritchard during the summer were made or not, all that matters is that he’s here, he’s a Sunderland player and will hopefully remain so beyond January.

A new deal might be tough to thrash out given our policy regarding older players, but in order to preserve his influence upon this young squad, I’d love to see a new contract drawn up and signed.

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Purpose replaces hesitancy as Sunderland get on the front foot

After some worryingly timid recent displays, most notably against Huddersfield, it was a relief to see us play with some aggression. Against the Terriers in our most recent home game, we spent far too long playing across the front of their well-drilled defence, moving the ball without any real intent and simply not finding the key pass.

Quite how much Dodds has been able to change this week was questionable, but it was notable that we dialled up the intensity by a huge amount against the Baggies and the results spoke for themselves.

Jobe’s wrongly disallowed goal on Saturday came as a result of some incisive play down the right and a ball being played across the face of goal with pace. Much has been made of a lack of goals from our strikers in recent weeks, but if they’ve got little to attack and nothing to run on to, they’re bound to struggle. That changed dramatically on Saturday, and not before time.

Hopefully we’ll see a performance of similar positivity against Leeds on Tuesday night. It’ll be our toughest home game of the season against Daniel Farke’s high flyers, but our mindset seemed to have shifted on Saturday, and let’s hope it continues.

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images

A solid platform for our new head coach

Let’s not beat about the bush here: whoever replaces Tony Mowbray will be walking into a changing room filled with talented, honest, and likeable players who’ve simply lost their way in recent weeks and need some guidance and encouragement.

There was a lot of noise during the week about a ‘failing model’ and the summer recruitment only yielding duds, but that was the kind of reactionary nonsense that you might’ve expected, and it simply isn’t true in reality.

There’s potential by the bucketload within this group of players and if that can be harnessed, a playoff push is easily within our grasp, particularly with some good additions next month.

Despite criticism of its succession planning, the club is rightly taking as much time as needed to secure the services of the right man for the job, and after his failed two-game spell in charge during the 2021/2022 season, this would’ve been a huge boost for Dodds, who spoke before the game about wanting to prove that he’s a more adept coach than many people thought.

The fact is that we aren’t owed a running commentary on everything that happens at the club and as much as some fans think otherwise, neither Kristjaan Speakman nor Kyril Louis-Dreyfus are obliged to give us regular updates on what’s happening and what the plan is for this season and beyond.

Let the process play out, let’s see who the new man is, and take it from there.

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images


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