Everyone from the Plymouth manager, Derek Adams to his club’s official website have been queuing up to have a series of bizarre rants about Sunderland ‘riding their luck’. Everything from the referee awarding us a stonewall penalty, to the Wearsiders having the audacity to field good players were cited as an excuse for Argyle’s defeat.
Despite these sentiments, the hosts also claimed that Sunderland aren’t that good anyway and at some stage our ‘luck’ must surely run out. Clearly, their fury was such that they couldn’t see the contradiction in bemoaning the quality we have at our disposal yet criticising our performance in the same breath.
Before I discuss Saturday’s 2-0 success in any detail, I would like to start by pointing Mr Adams and his army of dissenters to some statistics from the season thus far. After 16 games, we have lost just once, kept four clean sheets in succession, have the best goal difference in the league, scored the most goals, conceded the fewest and are unbeaten in eight. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that the lads are either the luckiest football team in the history of the game, or we are actually pretty good.
A bone of contention with many Argyle fans is the historic transfer fee of goal scorer, Aiden McGeady. The hilariously blinkered match report on the Plymouth Argyle website, stated that the Irishman commanded a transfer fee of £9.5 million ‘not too long ago’. It transpires that the transfer he referred to, occurred in 2010. To put this into perspective, in 2010 Joe McElderry reached number one in the UK charts, Sunderland were still three years from beginning their six in a row sequence over Newcastle and midfielder Bali Mumba hadn’t left Primary School.
McGeady joined Sunderland in the summer of 2017 for a fee of just £250k after a loan spell at Preston North End. There is little doubt that the winger is an excellent player at this level, but it’s not as if we’ve activated a cheat code by fielding him in our starting X1.
Other than McGeady and Adam Matthews our starting line-up was made entirely of new recruits and academy graduates, costing a combined £2.4 million. £2 million of this total was spent on Adam Matthews when we were a Premier League club. Hardly the megabucks that we have been accused of spending.
Another complaint from the home side was the imperious form of Jon McLaughlin who was in impressive form as he secured yet another clean sheet. The argument that Plymouth would have gained at least a share of the spoils if it hadn’t been for the form of the ‘keeper is a strange one. If a manager came out and claimed that his side would have won if it wasn’t for a striker scoring a 25-yard screamer, his comments would be dismissed as ludicrous. Although, our coalition of goalkeeper’s did their best to disprove this theory, it is the job of a keeper to produce quality saves, provide assurance to his back four and keep clean sheets.
McLaughlin’s signing and subsequent performances is testament to the exceptional work carried out by Jack Ross and his recruitment team. Signing good players for free doesn’t happen by accident and knitting them together into a cohesive unit is even harder. It would have been quite simple for Sunderland to simply attempt to hijack the top players from the division’s other clubs and throw unsustainable levels of funds at it in the process. Instead, Ross has carefully selected several players he felt could thrive at a big club like Sunderland, including fan-favourite Chris Maguire. In their own way, every summer signing has made a big contribution at some stage. After a slow start, Luke O’Nien has made match winning contributions at Home Park and two weeks previously against Shrewsbury. Even the much maligned, Alim Ozturk was part of a solid defensive unit that kept AFC Wimbledon at bay during the second half back in August.
Since the opening game of the season, manager Jack Ross has proven his ability to make game changing substitutions. Again, this is no accident, his in game intelligence and meticulous thinking has set him apart from most managers at this level and our steady improvements in performance is testament to his ability in the dugout.
I do have a smidgen of sympathy for Plymouth, I remember when we were in the Premier League and even during our embarrassing Championship campaign there were many occasions where we made encouraging starts to games, missed chances and were punished at the other end. If this happens over a period of time it is evident that luck has no part to play in it and you simply need to be more clinical yourselves.
In summary, Sunderland having good players is not lucky, quality recruitment is not lucky, higher fitness levels is not a sign of luck, being clinical is not lucky and striving for excellence on and off the pitch is not luck. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come between now and the end of the season and we continue to taste the sweet, sweet tears of opposition management and supporters from now until May.