As things continue to progress in an upward trajectory, we gathered some of our scribes together for this week’s roundtable…
It’s hard to believe that Shrewsbury was only two weeks ago. What’s your favourite moment of the last two weeks?
If a week is a long time in politics, it can seem like no time at all in football. The Shrewsbury debacle (if it really was that bad) seems a lifetime ago, probably because there has been a game every few days, we’ve changed owners, shaken up the academy, secured a place at Wembley, and O’Brien’s started playing like he’s a proper footballer. All of the off-field high points have been augmented by many more on the field. Wyke’s goals, McGeady’s assists, clean sheets, O’Nien’s 'have boots will travel' displays, O’Brien’s passion at Burton, the list goes on. Trying to pick a favourite from them is difficult. O’Nien having a go with a free-kick against Fleetwood when Maguire was on the field has to be considered, as does Sanderson’s brilliant sliding tackle just on half time in the same game, which would surely have had the crowd roaring their appreciation and McGeady’s cheeky rolling of that free-kick to Leadbitter to set things away at Burton is right up there. For me, however, it has to be Charlie Wyke’s late one at the Pirelli, simply because of the seemingly nonchalant manner in which he held off his marker while turning to sweep the ball home, showing that simple but effective is the way forward.
Well, where to start?! Leadbitter’s goal against Burton was straight off the training ground and that’s the kind of thing I love, it’s something I’ve really missed these last few years, the creativity and the obvious hard work, tactical and strategic developments and plans in training, being shown on the field. The new ownership I think goes without saying but we’ve sort of been expecting it since December but nevertheless it was a welcome and somewhat overdue bit of news.
I’ve enjoyed every moment from the past two weeks which is unusual as a Sunderland fan. However the highlight for me has to be the win against Doncaster, everything about the game was brilliant. It was a typical Sunderland performance, just after everyone’s had enough they draw you back in with a win. I feel like it could be a season defining moment that we’ll look back on in May when we are crowned League One champions.
On the pitch, I’d have Power’s goal against Fleetwood as my personal favourite. The work that had obviously gone into it, with Power standing near the front of the box towards the ball before circling round and running behind the line of our players running forward, was impressive and was a great example of the work that is clearly going on at the training ground in terms of player improvement and overall play. The goal also signalled the end of the Fleetwood game as a contest, which meant that we could sit back and look forward to the games coming up. Having had the last three league games finish in this manner will hopefully result in added freshness for our players in the games coming up, which you’d imagine will be quite important given the fixture schedule for the next month or so.
Thoughts on Aiden O’Brien these last few games. His pitch side battle showed there’s no bullying Sunderland in League One anymore and his goal against Fleetwood was Wykelike!
The aforementioned Aiden O’Brien has gone way up in my estimation in these last couple of weeks, after previously failing to justify his selection - in my eyes at least. He’d previously seemed stuck between trying to be a Wyke and trying to be a McGeady, and succeeding at neither, but has come good since trying to be O’Brien. For a reasonably big lad, he wasn’t doing much in the air, but has added an aggression to his game that saw him force his way to the cross for the opener against Fleetwood. With that bit of aggression has come passion for the cause, shown when he wouldn’t back down at Burton. OK, had that taken place in the Premier League, VAR would probably have seen fit to send him, and at least two opponents, for an early bath, but standing up for your colours is something that we fans love to see. His hold-up play has improved no end, and his willingness to drift across the front line alongside or just behind Wyke shows what potential Johnson saw in him than some fans didn’t.
Well, he’s certainly improved of late, his movement on the pitch has been noticeable and he’s seemed to have eventually found his form. To say he had a slow start to the season would be an understatement but he’s eventually justifying his position in the starting XI. The goal against Fleetwood was a bit of a surprise as I never thought he could come up with something like that! Beside that point, he’s came on leaps and bounds especially in these last few weeks, even if his first couple of goals were textbook finishes, it may have been the confidence boost he needed. He’s definitely got something about him and was a regular feature for Millwall in the Championship so he’s obviously got something and hopefully we can see the best of him in the next few weeks.
He’s gradually improving game by game. There’s no denying his passion and determination is there as shown by his scrap at Burton but his ability is still lacking a bit. I feel like O’Brien is the type of player that would benefit more from having a crowd at the game and I can imagine him feeding off the atmosphere at a packed Stadium of Light. His goal against Fleetwood was well taken and you can see he’s been taking inspiration from Wyke.
He’s looked infinitely better since Johnson has come in. He always had a decent work rate under Parkinson whenever he played, but now the effort and graft are being used more effectively, chasing down players and pressing at the right times rather than running around like a headless chicken all game. Whilst this might not be the first thing you would ideally look for in an attacking player, it really helps set the tone for the rest of the team when pressing, which is obviously now a key component to our game. His first touch can still range from looking like Zidane to Altidore, but because of the effectiveness of the pressing we are getting the ball back quicker, meaning that he’s getting the ball in better areas more often - resulting in give-aways becoming less of an issue if he’s trying a little flick or a touch around the defender.
Thoughts on KLD’s half time interview? Accusing former owners of asset stripping our club has gone down well. The cold blunt way he delivered that fact showed he’s half Russian and, like O’Brien, will take no shit.
Our new owner, while looking young enough to get into the match for a junior price – and being younger than all but one of our starting line-up – pulled no punches with his half-time interview. There’s a fine line between saying it as it is and being downright antagonistic, and he got it just right. He mentioned asset stripping by the former owners, of course it was, when you look at what happened with Maja and Mumba, and the convoluted state our finances had descended into, which got the fans even further on his side, and the straightforward manner in which he discussed this, and other items, showed that he’s not one for flowery prose when simple facts, delivered with a youthful, disarming smile, will do just nicely. I have a feeling that there will be a few 'established' football folk who will feel they have an advantage over such a fresh-faced and pleasant young man only to discover that he has some really sharp teeth being that smile, and he’ll use them if it’s in Sunderland’s interest to do so. He spoke of structured dialogue with the fans, and while we’ve heard this before, this time it sounds less like a box-ticking comment and more like he wants to engage in it. He confirmed that he’s been instrumental in the appointment of Speakman, Davison, and Johnson, and repeatedly referred to the long term plan, something we all want to hear. As first interviews go, this was a very decent effort. Please let him be as genuine as he sounded.
Well it was straight to the point to say the least! He cut the crap and spoke how it is which is what I like, but we must remember everyone believed Charlie Methven when he boldly declared “the piss-taking party stops now”, he was right but as our new owner suggested, it became an asset stripping party! I don’t want to put a dampener on the whole thing, but we need to make sure we don’t get too carried away but at the same time, this is hopefully a new dawn and the lad seems to mean business so we’ll see and as the old saying goes, only time will tell. I like what he’s done and is doing with the restructuring, the recruitment of Speakman and Davison have been welcome and arguably overdue, he’s appointing people with a bit of a track positive record, unlike the bizarre appointment of Jim Rodwell as CEO by our former Chairman. The Academy restructure seems to be well underway now and hopefully we’ll see the fruits of that soon too, and we can rebuild the academy and our youth system from the bones it was left with after the aforementioned asset stripping party of Donald and Methven.
Watching the interview has made me extremely positive for the future. It seems like KLD has really got his head screwed on and has a plan to take the club forward. The new cameras and new lights for the grass are the first signs of that. The appointment of new directors and new coaches at the Academy are a bonus too and makes it seem like the ‘piss taking party is over’. I really feel like this is the start of something good for Sunderland and I can’t wait to see what happens. KLD is hopefully going to a very popular man on Wearside and I can see the Cooper Rose being renamed in his honour in a few years’ time.
He came across really well. It was a processed, calculated interview in which he said the right things not because he thought they would sound good, but because he really believed in them. Having someone at the club who thinks methodically about both the decisions he makes and the things he says will be a huge benefit and change from the last two owners. Whilst Short might not have come across as pound shop as Donald, he still staggered from structure to structure and manager to manager, without any real long-term goal in clear sight. We all know what Donald was like, both in terms of letting his mouth go and contradicting himself, and (like Short) not having a clear, long term plan for the club. This doesn’t look to be the case with Louis-Dreyfus, whose appointments in terms of the academy and the director of football suggest he’s here for the long term and has a plan of how to get there.