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Sunderland v Sheffield United - Sky Bet Championship

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Talking Points: They should use this game as an example when discussing VAR in the Championship

How did their second goal stand? How important is Luke O’Nien? And, should we be giving ourselves more credit for what Sunderland have achieved, rather than what we “could have had”?

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Only one place to start...

“If I was Tony Mowbray, I’d be spewing at that.” — Paul Heckingbottom

“It should’ve been called offside. The minute Sander Berge makes an attempt at the cross coming in, he should be flagged offside.” — Jobi McAnuff

“Maybe that’s the best the referee could do and so we should just accept the mediocrity of his performance!” — Tony Mowbray

Oh, and the best bit...

Ah, that’s alright then.

We cannot do anything about the officials in this country - it’s a categorical, well-established fact that they are all absolutely fucking shite.

We seem to be saying the same thing after every single game. Even on Sunday the refereeing was absolutely awful, but we managed to win the game still.

Thankfully this example was broadcast live on TV, for the world to see.

Maybe they’ll use it as an example to improve officiating at this level. Maybe they’ll use this as an example when putting forward the case for introducing VAR in the Championship.

Or maybe they’ll do fuck all. Probably.

Sunderland v Sheffield United - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light
Despite protests from the bench, Sheffield United’s second goal stood - but should it have?
Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

The O’Nienly man for the job!

Is there a more important player in our team right now than Luke O’Nien? I know this is talking points and the aim is to spark debate and conversation, but on this one I can just tell you, the answer is no!

When he isn’t stopping counter-attacks by piggy-backing on opponents or rattling them with a nudge and a kiss, he is body on the line giving 120% for the cause.

He might not be as attacking a Left back as Cirkin or Alese, but without him on the pitch we would have almost certainly been two or three down in the first 20 minutes.

Sunderland v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light
Luke O’Nien gives us something a little extra when he is on the pitch.
Photo by Will Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

With 5 minutes to go, and after a big impact injury to his knee he didn’t roll around or make a meal of the situation. Instead he did the opposite and almost underplayed the knock he picked up in an effort to get on with the game - and not 10 seconds later he still threw himself into the next challenge.

For me, his inclusion is essential in the continued absence of Evans, Stewart or a full back. He brings something to the starting line-up that demands more effort from those around him. He’s a role model to the youngsters and a benchmark of the effort required to play for Sunderland.

The high-energy and high-tempo Sunderland are back...

We watched Alex Neil walk off the Stadium of Light pitch after embarrassing us in defeat and scratched our heads as to how on earth Tony Mowbray was going to inject the pace and energy back into his side.

Since the Fulham FA Cup replay we had looked increasingly, tired and weary as each game passed. At the very heart of this season’s success is a team full of the energy and enthusiasm required to pressurise opposition and threaten on the counter.

Whilst there were periods of the game that Sheffield United dominated, it wasn’t anything to do with how we went about our business. We closed down, we got in faces, we tried to play forward quickly, it just so happened that we came up against a team that were equally as good at what we do so well.

Most of the time when a team scores against the run of play, it is because they are still capable of doing the things that make them threatening despite being up against it. If the sluggish, tired Sunderland we saw against Stoke, Coventry and Rotherham had turned up for the first 30 minutes, we’d have been 2-0 down rather than 1-0 up.

Despite the loss, the result was fantastic, but even more delightful is the apparent return of the style of play that made us fall in love with this team.

Sunderland v Sheffield United - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light
It was good to see a high-energy Sunderland back at the Stadium of Light despite the result.
Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Should we be crediting ourselves a little more with where we find ourselves?

“The fact that they are even in the conversation about a playoff spot this season despite the injuries they’ve had is fantastic.”

Sky pundits and commentators took every opportunity to praise Sunderland for being where they are despite the injuries and lack of experience we have - which begs the question: should we be giving the team more credit?

For context, we have been without our striker and talisman (Stewart) for a large portion of the season, our captain and bite in midfield (Evans) for half of it, without fullbacks for prolonged periods of time, and without this season’s most influential player (Diallo) for the last two matches.

We quickly raised our expectations as the season progressed, but have failed to consider the circumstance and bigger picture when we aren’t meeting the inflated benchmark.

Regardless of what happens for the rest of the season, it’s been a success. Not as successful as it looked like it could have been, but certainly better than any of us really expected before the season kicked off against Coventry.

Sunderland v Sheffield United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

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