Sunderland Match Analysis – Battling performance to pick up all three points at tricky Gillingham

I saw a salty quote from the comical Steve Evans immediately after the Gillingham game. “Sunderland got battered,” he raged. I’m not sure that reflected the whole 90mins to be fair, but it certainly wasn’t our best first half performance. Not by any stretch.

Gillingham didn’t make it easy, did they? Still, three points are all that matters and the Lads secured them after a resolute second half performance. All the more impressive considering Elliot Embleton’s sending off.

It was good to get Callum Doyle back too. But, I was a little apprehensive before the match given some key players were out injured. We’ve gone from having significant strength in depth to looking a little light in key areas. McGeady, Gooch and Evans would potentially have started and obviously Broadhead and Huggins have been fantastic when they’ve featured. To miss having those options was a concern, Dajaku too, having impressed against Cheltenham.

The way we set up on paper with two 10’s providing the width was another source of anxiety. I’m not keen on Embleton playing anywhere other than in the No10 role. He’s made that playmaker position his own this season and we seem more disjointed with him out wide, losing some of that attacking impetus and cohesion within the side.

Maybe that all conspired to have an effect on the first-half display.

Hoffmann had a decent save to make early doors and I’ve seen O’Nien get the blame for their pen but it looked rather a soft one. Admittedly I haven’t seen the replay.

Either way, we didn’t click. Thoughts of ‘ah here we go’ flashed to mind. Gillingham, a side on another poor run of form looking for a positive result; it’s a scenario where we’ve typically gifted teams in the past. The fluidity of passing that we’ve seen much of this season certainly didn’t seem to be firing. On the few occasions it hasn’t, we’ve tended to slip up so a second goal looked to be coming.

But, then Dan Neil just did Dan Neil things. That inch perfect cross was sublime. I know there’s still several months left on his contract but hopefully Speakman will look to offer revised terms to reflect the significant impact the young lad is having this campaign.

Speaking of impact, I know Aiden O’Brien has his doubters but I was pleased he got his goal. Arguably the one bright light against Portsmouth and with his hat-trick against Blackpool including some other good displays, he’s probably looking to be in the starting XI on merit, irrespective of injuries.

The fightback was on and a great cross from Pritchard for Flanagan’s goal seemed to show everything was on the line. It’s great to see.

The Embleton sending off has caused some debate on Twitter. A definite red for me. Wild, reckless and didn’t need to be made. But, one of them things I suppose. It’s not like he’s known for those sorts of challenges so beyond the three match ban I don’t feel like there is much to be concerned about. We picked up the full points so whether it was or wasn’t a sending off was all moot in the end.

All in all we defended well considering we were down to ten for what seemed like an eternity and it was a real battling performance.

So, onto the next one.

Speaking of which, Crewe are having a torrid time. They haven’t won in the last five with three draws and two defeats. We should be looking at them with a view to it being another Cheltenham at home. We all said someone was going to get a real hammering from us, maybe we’re due another big win.

If ever there was an opportunity to push on. This is it.

Graeme Atkinson