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Sunderland v Southampton FC - Sky Bet Championship

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Sunderland’s faith in young and talented footballers is paying dividends

You can’t buy team spirit - the best teams are moulded and forged into great sides, not bought off the shelf ready-made.

Photo by Robert Smith/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Following Saturday’s demolition of Southampton and the post-match interviews with Sunderland’s players and management, it’s clear that we have an amazing togetherness in the squad - something that’s been carried over from last season.

Sunderland v Southampton FC - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Robert Smith/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

You only have to look at the billions spent by Chelsea on a mix-and-match group of players from which even the most studious football fan would struggle to decipher a formation or style of play. Even more worrying is their run of results.

Money can get you talent but it doesn’t give you style, camaraderie or a platform to express yourself. It also doesn’t allow you to ‘play like you’re with your mates at the park’, as Pierre Ekwah so beautifully phrased it at the weekend.

I went into Saturday feeling positive and thinking we might win but like most people, I didn’t see the final scoreline coming.

Our counter attacking and passing was great to watch. We looked sharp and incisive, and Alex Pritchard’s cameo, which saw him spraying balls all over the park, was joyous and not allowing him to leave this summer may prove a very astute decision as the season develops.

There can’t be many managers capable of doing what Tony Mowbray is doing: working with young talent, building a team, developing a style and brand of football that’s not only good to watch, but generally yields results.

Sunderland v Southampton - Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Other managers would bemoan a lack of funds, injury problems and bad luck, but Mowbray just gets on with it, uses what he has and sends his players out to enjoy it.

In his interview, he explained that his message is to ‘remember that you’re good footballers and enjoy playing the game’.

He isn’t heaping pressure on the Lads and there aren’t big price tags to justify or overambitious targets to try and hit. Instead, there’s simply a love of the game and the determination to nurture and develop these young lads.

The post-match interviews with Ekwah, Jack Clarke and Mowbray were almost as enjoyable as the game itself, and it’s so nice to see footballers smiling, laughing and genuinely forming friendships.

Ekwah was immense on Saturday and was gutted that he didn’t get the ‘man of the match’ award, which personally I think he deserved, and I love that he wanted it even after scoring and winning.

His passing ability and technique are clear to see but his positioning and breaking up of play was spot on and it denied Southampton the chance to break on numerous occasions.

Sunderland v Southampton FC - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Robert Smith/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Other than a ten minute spell in the first half where we surrendered possession and were pushed back by a Southampton team with plenty of Premier League experience, we were comfortable and could’ve scored more goals.

I would’ve loved to have seen Hemir hit the back of the net and go onto dominate the defenders, as confidence is key for footballers and teams. Had the Bradley Dack penalty been given, the game may have changed dramatically but as it was, luck was on our side for a change and we took full advantage.

It’s also good to see a more clinical side to this team. Last season, we often dominated possession and chances created, only to see the game slip away into a goalless draw.

A mention should also be given to Dan Neil, who had one of his best games in a Sunderland shirt.

His pass to Abdoullah Ba for the first goal typified his calmness under pressure, as he lofted the ball into the onrushing player’s path after coolly chesting it down inside his own area.

Sunderland v Southampton - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Will Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

At the moment, we have a way of playing that doesn’t rely on one particular player.

Ross Stewart sold? No problem. Amad not coming back? We can deal with it. Patrick Roberts injured? Let’s allow Jewison Bennette to do a few pirouettes, and I haven’t even mentioned Chris Rigg and his potential.

Also worthy of recognition is Jobe.

My expectations as to how many games he would play and the impact he could have at such a young age were low, but he looks so accomplished and comfortable on the ball, and I’m amazed that Premier League teams didn’t snap him up.

It says a lot for our recruitment and the environment we’ve created- one that gives young players a chance to play and enjoy their football so much- that they’re choosing Sunderland over other clubs.

With Roberts and our new signings to come into the fold and Aji Alese hopefully returning from injury soon, it feels much more promising and exciting now that the dust has settled after the transfer deadline.

Bring on the trip to QPR and our fabulous red and whites!


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