In the aftermath of Saturday’s big game against Newcastle United, many of my friends were happy enough to offer their two cents as to what went wrong for us on the day.
Talk of naivety and overconfidence on the ball were two themes that popped up more than once, whilst the other hot topic centred around the ‘little blonde fella’ who played behind the striker.
Although their knowledge of the ‘Sunderland way’, that of including an abundance of young players in the team was decent enough, the fact that I had to tell them that Pritchard was the oldest player on the pitch by quite a distance (with the exception of Luke O’ Nien) took them by complete surprise.
Furthermore, when it was put to them that there’s a high chance of Pritchard being sold because of his age, the Wearside ‘project’ was scrutinised even more.
Ever since his introduction from the bench against Millwall in early December, it’s become clear to me that Pritchard is absolutely central to everything good that we do.
In what would prove to be one of Tony Mowbray’s final acts as Sunderland boss, the new Birmingham City manager brought on Pritchard in a central role at The Den, where his clear thinking and footballing ability increased the tempo of the game tenfold and brought the Lads back into the match after a dour first half.
The skills he possesses have been demonstrated during the festive period, and whenever he’s on the ball, he seems to have the knack of making the right decision and picking the best option more often then not.
When questioned afterwards as to why Pritchard wasn’t starting, Mowbray confessed that he didn’t believe he was in a position to start him, in an apparent nod to the club’s policy on youth.
Given the age profile of the current Sunderland side, Mowbray can’t be accused of not giving youth a chance, and to claim that he was essentially not allowed to play Pritchard makes me believe that something else was going on.
Pritchard - as demonstrated by his demeanour on the pitch - appears to be a spiky character and I wouldn’t be surprised if his personality has caused issues for the Sunderland hierarchy.
I have to admit that this is only conjecture, but it just doesn’t seem to make sense that a player who’s made such a significant contribution to Sunderland in recent times could leave the club without much surprise from many fans.
You only need to look at the games we’ve played recently to see that Pritchard’s performances were almost the standout feature in all of them, whereas the result against Coventry highlighted his importance to the team.
Unlike many other clubs, Sunderland do things differently now and bizarrely, Pritchard’s future doesn’t seem to be secure.
I question this and ponder exactly what happens if we do get rid of him.
With Bradley Dack and Patrick Roberts currently injured, the opportunity has arisen for the Londoner to get regular game time.
Do we buy another attacking midfielder, possibly start one of our youngsters who are certainly not ready, or persist with Jobe, who’s looked out on his feet in recent weeks?
For these reasons alone, letting Pritchard leave would be a silly move. With the squad as young as it is, this isn’t the time to let go of players who have the necessary experience.
In my opinion, Pritchard was the best Sunderland player on the pitch against Newcastle United on Saturday, and getting rid of him would be another mistake to add to those that the club have made in recent weeks.