Sunderland stand strong in the face of a Hoops onslaught
Let’s waste no time here: Sunderland’s mettle was tested enormously on Saturday, and as Gareth ‘Rock and Roll Football’ Ainsworth’s team did their best to kick us off the park with a predictably uncompromising performance, we were being challenged and the contrast between this game and the sun-drenched victory over Southampton was stark.
QPR’s tactics, epitomised by a coward’s challenge by Jack Colback on Jobe Bellingham for which he deservedly saw red, were a disgrace, and another inept refereeing display didn’t help us either.
It was notable that this was the first time we’d played an Ainsworth team since the 2022 League One playoff final, and perhaps the scars of that loss were still there for the wannabe rock star.
However, after falling behind to a goal from Kenneth Paal, we dug in, showed admirable resilience, and eventually turned the game around on the back of a second half performance filled with pace, sharp, crisp passing, and no small amount of determination,
Young and developing teams always have to go through these kinds of experiences if they want to achieve success, and although we didn’t find it easy at Loftus Road, the attitude we displayed was absolutely exemplary and it offered further proof that this is a squad who are fully united and proud to represent our club- both at home and away.
Alex Pritchard shows his enduring class
As the summer transfer window entered its final stages, I was hoping and praying that rumours of Pritchard’s supposed departure were wide of the mark, because losing the services of our ace playmaker would’ve been a huge setback for our prospects this season.
Fortunately, Pritchard remained a Sunderland player beyond the deadline and when he entered the fray to replace Pierre Ekwah on Saturday, it felt like a move that could eventually swing the game in our favour, and that’s exactly what happened.
The former Norwich and Huddersfield attacker was superb, with his ability to find space and retain possession in tight areas proving vital as we eventually turned the tide in the second half.
Even in challenging situations, Pritchard never looks hurried or as if he’s trying too hard. Instead, there’s a reassuring composure to his play and it’s utterly essential to everything that’s good about Sunderland.
Let’s hope he stays for the entire season and that we can resolve his contractual situation next summer. He’s one of our most valuable players, without a doubt.
Abdoullah Ba has the final say after a mixed afternoon
When Ba’s name appeared on the team sheet at 2:00pm, I was pleased, because I felt that he deserved to retain his place in the starting XI after his exploits against Southampton. It also sent a positive message to the winger from Tony Mowbray, namely that if you play well and take your opportunities when they’re presented, you’ll retain your place in the squad.
Overall, this was a tougher assignment for Ba than the stroll in the sunshine against the Saints, but his goal was exceptionally well-taken and he showed some nice touches as well. His energy was also crucial as we gradually turned up the intensity in the second half and began to show far greater purpose in attack.
In many ways, this game could be more important for his development than the 5-0 hammering of Russell Martin’s team, because it was tighter, more fraught, and he didn’t find it as easy to do what he wanted.
However, that’s the way that he’ll learn and improve, and the outcome was clear: even if things aren’t quite going your way, can you find the will to keep going and ensure that your head doesn’t drop?
Ba did that on Saturday, and his emergence as a real prospect on the right wing, as well as viable competition for Patrick Roberts, can only be a good thing going forward.
Promising signs for Sunderland’s debutants!
Mason Burstow found himself back on his West London stomping ground for his red and white debut, and whilst the Chelsea loanee didn’t score, he was always trying to find space, hassle the QPR defenders, and give our wide players an option through the middle.
Once he gets up to speed and we finally relearn the art of playing with a centre forward (which might sound silly, but the evidence of this season so far suggests that it’s true) I’m confident that the young striker will hit the goal trail and show exactly why he’s so highly-rated at Stamford Bridge.
Another exciting debut came from Adil Aouchiche, who not only set up Abdoullah Ba’s goal, but also showed some exciting touches and flashes of skill when he was introduced in the second half.
It’s always tricky to judge the potential of a new signing based on such a game, but the Frenchman slotted in quite nicely and seems to have the confidence to back himself at all times.
I have a feeling that Aouchiche could be a bit of a maverick talent, capable of frustrating and dazzling in equal measure, but the more he plays, the better he’ll get, and it’s exciting to consider what he’ll be able to contribute during this season and beyond.