Just One Of Those Days

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It was just one of those days. In hindsight, it’s frustrating we didn’t take advantage of other results going our way; with Portsmouth and Blackpool the only two sides from League One’s top 10 claiming maximum points.

A win would have taken us second – three points off top-spot Hull with two games in hand. And it would have gone a long way to cement a legitimate push for automatic promotion this season.

Looking at the afternoon in isolation, it was a pretty below-par performance. Very little creativity from Aiden McGeady, Lynden Gooch or Chris Maguire when he was introduced in the second half. A laboured showing up front from Charlie Wyke. And an out-of-position defensive display from Luke O’Nien.

I don’t think that’s an unfair reflection on Saturday’s 90 minutes. But it is in context.

It’s easy to forget that the 1-1 draw with Lincoln came after a comprehensive but hard-fought win at Portsmouth, a mighty win on a very heavy Wembley pitch last Sunday, and less than 72 hours removed from a tricky night in Accrington.

A performance like this was always going to come. And it’s harsh to jump to conclusions from what we saw at the weekend.

During Saturday evening’s Wise Men Say reaction show, O’Nien’s performance was rightfully brought into focus. The weekend’s draw was arguably his worst showing at centre-back since being deployed there by Lee Johnson amid the ongoing defensive injury crisis.

He was undoubtedly at fault for Callum Morton’s equaliser; getting too tight to his man before being rolled and left behind. His performance and positional play were also questionable in other moments. Sloppy errors led to chances being conceded, one header back to Lee Burge in the first half immediately springs to mind.

It was suggested that perhaps the Lincoln game had highlighted it was time for a change at the back. That no fixture in midweek before Bristol Rovers was the gap we needed to bleed Bailey Wright back into the team.

But I’d be wary of jumping to conclusions or acting too fast. And this isn’t coming from an O’Nien fanboy. I still believe his best position is right-back, and although he shows commitment, desire and composure, there are still many elements of his game that need improving.

But the partnership he’s built with Dion Sanderson over the past couple of months is the strongest we’ve seen in any Sunderland side since coming down to this league – and perhaps even longer. It may seem irrelevant, but you don’t pick up back-to-back Man of the Match awards in two high-profile games if you don’t deserve them.

And thinking further back, Sanderson has also collected his fair share of fan-voted UK Asbestos Limited accolades while alongside the out-of-position “midfielder”.

Perhaps, then, Saturday was just something waiting to happen. The same could have been said at Crewe a few weeks ago. Annoying yes, but in hindsight, it was a good point and highlighted the grit needed to get out of this division.

Hopefully, at the end of the season, we’ll look back on the Lincoln draw and think the same. It’s also easy to forget that a few months ago we probably would have lost on Saturday – and taking into consideration the smart stops from Burge, we probably should have.

Lincoln looked a cut above the majority of teams we’ve played this year. The referee was on another planet. And we had an off day. As long as we react positively against Bristol Rovers next weekend then we can forget about this 1-1 draw and focus our attention towards the run-in.

Joe Owens