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Sunderland v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet Championship

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Have Sunderland finally turned a corner under Michael Beale?

Saturday’s 3-1 win over Plymouth Argyle means that the team’s unbeaten run extends to three matches - are we pointing back in the right direction under Michael Beale?

Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

There were certain moments on Saturday when all you could do was be in awe.

Sunderland, for many weeks, have been a shadow of themselves; toothless in front of goal, and rather passive in midfield areas.

However, here in this second-half display, this felt like the Sunderland of old, the Sunderland of last season that fans had grown to love.

Sunderland v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dan Neil’s midfield pedigree continues to grow and grow in what was a seamless performance, whilst Jack Clarke just continued to do Jack Clarke things. Both are destined for the Premier League in the short-term, whether that’s with Sunderland or elsewhere.

Those were the two main performers, but in this second-half display (that was arguably the best under Michael Beale), no one really could have had a bad word said against them.

Leo Hjelde’s impact in a red-and-white shirt is massive, linking up with Clarke on the left as though both are seasoned veterans, whilst Luke O’Nien and Dan Ballard’s partnership at the heart of defence continues to go under the radar.

In the second half, Sunderland were just that good, that seamless and that exciting once again.

Sunderland v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Martin Swinney/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Direct forward passing combined with a more intense press and some tactical tweaks were all features of this sensational second 45.

To continue to push in the playoff race, they need to harness the qualities, and in this second half, they found their reward.

Of course, though, there will remain some doubts and worries about the side’s weaknesses. Once again in the first half, the Black Cats were poor in front of goal; no one “gambling” as Beale put it in his pre-match comments, and it took only one clinical counter-attack to put the Pilgrims into a one-goal lead.

But, the style of their comeback was simply astonishing.

Three finishes that were of the highest order proved the quality that this side has, but maybe hasn’t been truly used in recent weeks.

Sunderland v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Martin Swinney/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

And so, it leaves a big question. Have Sunderland finally turned a corner under Michael Beale?

His opening weeks were dominated by the scepticism around his arrival and the whole derby situation, and that only intensified with a poor dip in form.

However, here they lie three games unbeaten with seven points out of their last nine, and still very much at the heart of the playoff conversation.

The true answer to the question, though, is that only time will tell. The team have been three unbeaten under Beale once already since his arrival, but with a run of games now against teams in the bottom half of the table, it represents a huge opportunity to finally kick on and continue this momentum.

Sunderland v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Huddersfield on Wednesday night may be their first game under a new manager, whilst next weekend’s trip to Birmingham has the added spice of Tony Mowbray coming up against us for the first time.

However, Beale’s tactical tweaks look as though they are beginning to pay off, whilst the players finally look as though they’ve bought into the Beale style of play.

And yet, despite all of the disconnect that the supporters have felt towards the head coach in his opening weeks, a particularly poignant and emotional moment in the fourth minute proved that football isn’t the be-all and end-all.

Beale’s ambition remains to guide Sunderland into a top six finish come May, and if anything, this second-half performance proved that they are more than capable of achieving that feat once again.

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