As disappointing as it was, and particularly with how it ended, there are lots of positives we can take from last night’s game.
You don’t need to have even watched the match to see that Sunderland dominated. The match stats tell their own story. 61% possession, 20 shots and 7 on target to Burton’s 1. Unfortunately they made that one shot count while we’re left to rue several missed chances, with Aiden McGeady the main culprit. We shouldn’t be disheartened though, the signs are there that we’re headed for a strong season.
One thing that’s apparent is that we seem to have a lot more players who are comfortable on the ball now. At times last season, McGeady in particular often had only Grant Leadbitter as an option to give the ball to in tight areas. The rest of the team weren’t capable of receiving the ball in difficult circumstances and using it wisely. Now however, we’ve got options virtually all over the pitch. Doyle set the tone early on with a good tackle then immediate, incisive forward pass to Stewart and with Cirkin, Neil and Embleton also seemingly regular fixtures in the side there is almost always an outball now for the likes of McGeady and Lynden Gooch.
As well as our transfer policy seems to have addressed that particular shortcoming, and shortcoming is the apposite word here, I still think we look very small and physically slight in attacking areas. Ross Stewart aside, there’s next to no physicality from us in forward areas and this looked arguably worse when Alex Pritchard and Nathan Broadhead came on after 70 minutes. We can only hope that Lee Johnson and his recruitment team have identified this and will look to rectify it, rather than the manager attempting to forge a side in his own image.
Still, it was an encouraging performance to outplay a side many have tipped to do well this season, particularly away from home. And with AFC Wimbledon heading to the Stadium of Light this weekend, we can be very hopeful that by Saturday night we’ll be looking at three wins from four.