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Sunderland v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship

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Editorial: Heads up! Cardiff game was a reminder that it’s not all going to be plain sailing

We were always going to have some ups and downs this season!

Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Progress is rarely truly linear. Over the past almost three years, we’ve progressed significantly in the right direction, but there have been little ups and downs along the way.

Yesterday’s match was a dip, and one that – to my mind at least – we can firmly put down as ‘one of those games’.

Play that ten times and we win eight or nine. Yesterday was ‘the one’.

It’s important we don’t dwell on it for too long, or over-emphasise the importance of it. We could have been beaten on Wednesday at Blackburn. We weren’t. We could have won yesterday. We didn’t. That’s football.

That said, I don’t think Tony Mowbray had the best few days, if I’m being honest. I was a bit concerned after watching his press conference on Thursday, and I think last season’s game may have played into this one, too.

Sunderland v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

I think Mowbray’s done a great job overall so far, but like Sunderland as a whole, he’s had some ups and downs along the way. He seems to be the type of person who gets visibly upbeat or downcast by things either on the field or behind the scenes. We saw it for a few weeks in late January / early February, and we saw it again in midweek.

By his own admittance, he was low on Thursday when meeting the press, which did make me worry a little.

While tiredness is understandable, anyone who’s managed people before will know you can’t let that show. In those situations, it’s even more important to bring energy to the situation. Did that have an impact? We’ll never know for sure. But it certainly won’t have helped.

Did the Cardiff game last season play into his team selection, too? Last season, he made a number of changes after a midweek game, and we turned in a poor display. This time, he surprisingly made none – and we got no points.

Sunderland v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship
Despite a Patto penalty save we went down 1-0 to Cardiff last season, too
Photo by Cardiff City FC/Getty Images

Of course, if we win, these things don’t get mentioned – I get it completely – but we didn’t. And, when we don’t win, those types of things get highlighted. I thought the substitutions were a little odd, but the same logic applies, I guess – if we’d won, they’d have been the right ones! Such is the life of a manager.

I remember Mick McCarthy saying years ago that if we win our home games and draw our away fixtures, we’d get promoted. Overall, that equates to two points per game – and while it’s unlikely a team goes through the season winning every home game, it’s important we get better at home.

We’ve already lost two of four at the Stadium of Light in the league this season, and following on from last season’s seven wins from 23 games, it’s something we need to improve on.

Our away form is generally pretty good, and Sheffield Wednesday on Friday provides a good opportunity to get back on track.

However, it’s also the type of fixture that traditionally proves problematic to us... so fingers crossed the lads can brush off yesterday’s result.

Team selection’s going to be interesting for that one. After desperately needing strikers for the best part of a year, it seems we’re struggling to figure out how best to play with them. On Wednesday night, we spent 30 minutes going long to Burstow, which played right into Blackburn’s hands, while yesterday the on-loan Chelsea striker was pretty anonymous.

Sunderland v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

From what we’ve seen of Hemir so far, he looks like he needs time to develop – as does Burstow. But given Hemir’s our player, shouldn’t we be prioritising him? I understood it more last season, when Gelhardt was given game time ahead of players like Harry Gardiner, who they evidently thought wasn’t up to it, but this is different, given we have a player like Hemir.

Unless a player’s ready to walk into the team and make a massive difference, like a Shay Given or Jonny Evans (or, eventually, an Amad!), then I don’t really like using loan players. If it comes down to it, I’d rather Hemir got more minutes at present than Burstow. I’m certainly not writing Burstow off, by the way – if he was ours, it’d be different. But he’s not.

Anyway, Rusyn’s brief cameo was interesting – he looks more of a forward than a striker, which could suit the way we want to play very well, and offer a happy balance in terms of getting a cutting edge into the team without sacrificing the way we’ve needed to play.

It’s one to watch, but I’d be tempted to give him a start at Hillsborough on Friday night.

Sunderland v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Regardless of yesterday, it’s been a pretty good week – six points from three games, and Niall Huggins has started in all three. The fullback has had a torrid time with injuries in his two years here so far, but he showed his promise yesterday with a fine display that was a man-of-the-match contender.

Huggins was very highly rated at Leeds, and an injury to Dennis Cirkin opened the door for him to stake a claim for a regular place in the team. With Timothee Pembele eyeing up the right back spot, left-back could be Huggins’ best opportunity. Hopefully, he can maintain his fitness over the coming weeks and build on what has been a very good – albeit very belated – start to his Sunderland career.


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