Ups and Downs – Plenty of positives to take from Sunderland’s 2-2 draw with QPR

Richard Easterbrook looks back at Saturday’s breathless 2-2 draw with Queens Park Rangers

⬆️Up: Alex Pritchard proving to be essential

Saturday was another showcase of just how important Alex Pritchard is to Sunderland. Playing in the 10 role just behind Ellis Simms and Ross Stewart, Pritchard would drift along the line, finding the space, and was always an outlet for the wingers. His part in the first goal was similar to the winner against Bristol City – Jack Clarke driving to the byline, cutting back and finding Pritchard on the edge of the box. His workrate is phenomenal and keeps the ball moving from midfield into attack. He is key to everything we’re doing at the moment.

⬇️Down: But how do we play when he goes off

Pritchard was replaced on 88 minutes – just after QPR’s first goal – by Bailey Wright, which brought Luke O’Nien into midfield after playing the majority of the match at centre-half. This highlights the lack of strength we have on the bench as there’s nobody else that can really play the role that Pritchard can. We need to find a different way to play without Pritchard.

⬆️Up: Stewart and Simms – the new SAS

For the second game running, Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms both got on the scoresheet and in the early stages of the season there are signs of an excellent partnership forming there. It’s impressive how much they work for each other – they’re both a physical presence but quick too, so when one wins a knockdown the other one plays off him. It’s not a case of  there being a main striker, it’s clearly a partnership. There is clearly a decent understanding between the two already. This is game two of their partnership, who knows where this could lead?

⬇️Down: No fit striker behind them

Of course when you play both Simms and Stewart from the start, who’s on the bench? It’s clear we need to strengthen in this department because there’s not even a U21 player that could slot into that role. Both of our strikers need to be starting every game but as the fixtures start to stack up, we need more bodies to pick up the slack.

⬆️Up: We’ve seen things you’ll never see

There’s something joyful about seeing a goalkeeper go up for a corner. It’s unlikely he will score, but it’s an unknown, it’s a wildcard. It’s something we don’t see often. He could score. He could miss by a mile. He could concede a long distance goal into his unguarded net. It’s the chaos theory. Sadly for us, Seny Dieng did score. But you’ve probably witnessed something that will never be seen at the Stadium of Light again. It was a special moment regardless of what side you were on.

⬇️Down: Our game management needed to be better

At 2-1 we brought Elliot Embleton and Bailey Wright into the fray. Both had been stripped and ready to come on some time before QPR’s goal but there simply wasn’t a break in play. And when that did come, we didn’t make the changes. Bibs went on and it wasn’t until the goal went in that those changes were finally made. Was that too late in the day? Could our changes have been made sooner? Patrick Roberts was an earlier sub, coming on for Simms on the hour mark. He started brightly but there was a certain amount of naivety from the former Man City man in terms of game management when it went to 2-1 – at this point we should have been looking after the ball a lot better than we did. And we were fully punished for it.

⬆️Up: Still a good start in the league

For a good 30 minutes on Saturday, we were top of the league on the in-play table. Had we seen out the victory it would have been the first time in 15 years that we’d topped the Championship. This means very little as it’s still August, but it shows how good our start to life back in the second tier has been. Even with the point, that’s still five points from our first three games, one win, zero defeats. It’s a steady, sure start from a newly-promoted side in a long slog of a season where there will be more spills than thrills.

⬇️Down: It was a golden opportunity to put three points on the board and we blew it

We’ve started well, but we have a paper thin squad, we will lose games, and we will go on a difficult run. Will games like this prove to be decisive come the end of the season? If we’re two points off safety in May, do we point to that day in August? Every point matters. It was an opportunity to put back to back wins together and, by the bounce of a ball, and a lick of paint, we missed out. We can ill afford for this to become a habit.