At the start of the Championship campaign, it is fair to say that Sunderland were one of the more unknown outfits. Whilst some pundits claimed the Black Cats would make an immediate return to League One, other backed them to make it back-to-back promotions.
After 10 games of the 2022/23 season, Sunderland sit in 5th and the philosophy at the club has improved 10-fold to that of previous seasons.
Previously, Sunderland were known to over-pay for players and give out lucrative contracts to players who didn’t deserve them. Nowadays. They are a club who nurture and help develop young, hungry players who have something to prove. Players such as Jack Clarke, Patrick Roberts and Amad Diallo started their footballing careers at lightning speed but have now stagnated slightly.
Sunderland, especially for Clarke and Roberts, are giving homes to these players and giving them a platform to showcase their extreme talent – and they are thriving.
Under Alex Neil and now Tony Mowbray, the players at Sunderland are being given the freedom to express themselves offensively, whilst also being tactically aware of the defensive duties they hold.
In their first game of the season, five of the starting 11 for Sunderland had never played in the Championship and it did show. In a game in which the Mackems dominated, a lack of physicality and game management cost them as they conceded a late equaliser to Coventry.
The lack of tactical nous and game management was there for all to see a few weeks later against Queens Park Rangers as well. 2-0 up with five minutes left, Sunderland conceded twice to give up three points and give the West London side the satisfaction of a thoroughly undeserved point.
Since that game, however, Sunderland’s game management has improved and are dispatching of teams when winning – 3-0 victories against Rotherham and Reading proving to be important for what could turn out to be a playoff fight for them.
The win at Reading was impressive for an array of reasons…
- After injury to defender Dennis Cirkin, Aji Alese slotted straight in to make his Championship debut and, like the rest of the defence, was superb.
- Injury to Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms left Sunderland striker-less, but the creative players on the pitch did the business.
- All three of the goals were top class. The third goal is already a contender for goal of the season – a back to front move which resulted in Jack Clarke finishing from close range.
It has been a positive start for the Wearsiders, but could their inexperience show and they fall down the table? Or will their fearlessness excel and they continue their form to cement a playoff place?