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Sunderland v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship

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What were the positives and negatives from Sunderland’s victory over Preston?

The Lads saw off Ryan Lowe’s visitors on Monday as goals from Alex Pritchard and Nazariy Rusyn made the difference. What did our writers make of the game?

Photo by Martin Swinney/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Lars Knutsen says…

Sunderland’s changes pay off

I thought Michael Beale was brave by bringing in Aji Alese, dropping Jenson Seelt, and pairing Alex Pritchard and Nazariy Rusyn further forward.

This helped to take the pressure off Jack Clarke, who was expected to score in recent games and in which he delivered.

The goal from Pritchard was outstanding, especially in the context of Beale’s post-match revelation that the midfielder had just recovered from a chest infection.

An impressive all round display

This was a very good performance on all levels, with outstanding game management, which kept Preston out of contention with our defence looking very disciplined.

A superb run and goal from Rusyn (the first from a Sunderland striker in nine months) leaves the squad in good heart ahead of the FA Cup tie with Newcastle.

A slightly flat second half

It’s hard to think of any real negatives but I was a bit disappointed by the way we sat back in the second half.

If we’d conceded a goal, the game could’ve become very tense, as was the case versus West Bromwich Albion.

Patrick Roberts’ fitness

We rarely have a full squad available and it’s vital that Roberts is fit for at least some of the Newcastle game on Saturday lunchtime.

We need as many players as possible to be ready and pumped up for selection in that match, and needless to say, I’d love to beat the barcodes!

Sunderland v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Martin Swinney/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says…

Alex Pritchard at his best

It was a masterclass in attacking midfield play from Pritchard yesterday, and he deserved to be named ‘man of the match’, as awarded by Sky Sports.

The loss of Patrick Roberts could’ve caused real problems for us, but it was a masterstroke from Beale in putting Pritchard wide with a remit to roam in from the right and create confusion.

His first goal of the season was a cracker, and it got us up and running in the first half.

Top drawer, Pritch. Great to have you back to your best!

A strong defensive display

A clean sheet reinforced how strong a performance it was.

Dan Ballard, Luke O’Nien and Trai Hume were backed up by the returning Aji Alese, who did well after a long time away.

Although Preston struggled to create a lot, what they did was decent at times but we stifled and closed them down with skill and physicality.

It was great to see against a team who are mid-table and may well be in the playoff mix come the end of the season.

Nazariy Rusyn breaks his duck

The goal created by Anthony Patterson and Jack Clarke was beautifully finished by Rusyn just before half time, and was greeted by one of the biggest cheers the stadium will roar this year.

His movement and determination to get the killer touch showed why Beale and Mike Dodds were right to back him and start him, and he deserves to keep the shirt, in my opinion.

Let’s hope that is the first of many for the rapid striker, who might’ve scored another had he not been shoulder barged off the ball when almost through.

A great performance and such a relief to have scored goals through different players.

A difficult day for Abdoullah Ba

Ba was introduced in the second half and once again, he didn’t need any opposition as he either beat himself or gave the ball away literally every time he got some service.

We simply have to give him a rest and try other options, as it isn’t working. As a young lad, it’s almost more cruel to put him back in as we are.

There are others who deserve a chance, so I say let’s get him out on loan until he’s ready for what we need.

Sunderland v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Martin Swinney/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Mitch Marshall says…

A more direct style of play

I think both of our goals were Sunderland at our best: driving at opposition defences and showing the determination and skill to get a shot away.

Even though the goals were quite different on first viewing, I think Michael Beale will be equally pleased with the build up and finishing for both.

We’ve always been capable of scoring these types of goals but for whatever reason, we haven’t done it often enough in 2023/2024. If the coaching staff can change that on the back of performances like this, it’ll be really important in helping us sustain a playoff push for the second year running.

A mention also for Jack Clarke’s tenacity and persistence for the second goal, which was just as impressive as his skill and vision to pick out Nazariy Rusyn. As ever, he’s key to this style- or any style- that we seek to employ to unpick opposition defences.

New Sunderland scorers!

It was a boon for Alex Pritchard and Rusyn to get their first goals of the season.

They’re both players who have a lot to offer and can probably count themselves somewhat unfortunate not to have scored already this season, so it’s great that they were both rewarded for their endeavours.

For Rusyn especially, I hope that feeling the love of the crowd and his teammates will give him the confidence to kick on in red and white during 2024.

A slower second half

It wasn’t unexpected after the festive period, but when we took our foot off the gas in the second half, we looked quite leggy and Beale was right to make wholesale changes from the bench as soon as it was sensible to do so.

The game suffered as a result, with Preston doing very little to trouble us and the Lads content to sit on the two-goal lead in a way which could’ve been dangerous were it not for some solid defending and the calibre of the opponent.

In the end, it was a massive plus that we kept a clean sheet and didn’t appear to pick up any new injuries. In addition, players like Aji Alese and Timothée Pembélé got more minutes under their belts, although I’m not sure many of us will ever watch the second half highlights in years to come.

Hopefully we can use the next few days to rest and recover before an enormous game in the FA Cup.

Slack passing

This is probably linked to the above, but I still think we could be more precise and careful with our use of the ball.

Whenever we seem to be controlling games, we have a frustrating habit of giving the ball straight back to the other team or as Jobe and one or two others did, simply kicking it out of play entirely.

This will happen to a team that tries to play the stylish brand of football we’ve become accustomed to, but I also think it’s a mental issue, perhaps stemming from the youthfulness of our players who may still be getting used to concentrating fully during games.

I believe it’s something we could work on on the training pitch and see dividends from in games like this, particularly at home, where stronger sides will punish us for our sloppiness, as we saw to painful effect against Coventry City.

In the grand scheme of things it’s relatively minor, but we showed why we should still have playoff ambitions, and it’ll be the small margins that decide whether we make it there and then if we can go one step further than last season.

Sunderland v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Martin Swinney/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

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