Wise Men Say: Sunderland 3 Stoke City 1

Patrick van Aanholt gets away from Marko Arnautovic of Stoke. Picture by Kevin Brady
Patrick van Aanholt gets away from Marko Arnautovic of Stoke. Picture by Kevin Brady
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THINGS feel a bit rosier now. A win going into the international break makes our start to the season look pretty palatable.

One defeat in seven sounds pretty good, and if there’s one thing that we’ve learned from Gus Poyet’s first year in charge of Sunderland it’s that his teams don’t lose games easily.

If you can stay in games, then you’re more likely to get positive results. You might lose the odd one, but you’ll also nick the odd one too.

So far, so good.

Up to now, a lot of focus had been on Sunderland’s attacking threat. Goals for Connor Wickham and Steven Fletcher against Stoke boost things in that department. But it could be argued that, from a defensive perspective, things have been pretty successful.

The transfer window yielded two proper permanent full-backs.

Billy Jones has broken into the side after a few injuries and has looked very good. He looks pretty going forward, and has tenacity and a little bit of nastiness in him. He’s added balance down the right side and it’s been great to see him settle down.

On the other side, we’ve seen Patrick van Aanholt blossom in just seven or so appearances.

The meandering, uncertain performance at The Hawthorns back in August seems a distant memory.

We’re seeing a strong, quick, intelligent young full-back who is hungry to prove himself after leaving Chelsea.

I don’t want to go overboard with him. However, my WMS colleague Stephen Goldsmith suggested to me that he could be one of the signings of the season, based on the early evidence.

I didn’t want to agree with him initially. It’s best not to get carried away with these sorts of things, especially as a Sunderland supporter.

But, with each passing minute of every game, the Dutchman seems to grow in stature.

My dad even suggested that he reminds him of Ashley Cole. Now that might be taking things a tad too far, but the comparisons are natural. Here’s a full-back who was at the same club as Cole, and you’d think van Aanholt would have learned a thing or two while in his presence.

If the fee was around the £1.5-2million mark, as is suggested, then it’s an absolute bargain as things stand.

Then there’s our returning friend, Santi Vergini.

He grew in stature last season, filled in at full-back again this season, and has earned an opportunity to prove himself at centre back after a shaky beginning in that role.

Vergini has been imperious in the middle. His reading of the game is superb, his decision-making is improving, and clever centre-forwards haven’t bullied him; Crouch, Gomis and Bony got no change from him whatsoever.

His use of the ball has also been very good, confirming his status as the Argentine Beckenbauer among my friends.

Again, that’s going way overboard, but let’s enjoy it when players do well.

He has all the makings of a cult hero and it’s been great to see him develop.

While it’s always natural to focus on the top of the pitch, I think we can rest easy for the next fortnight knowing we have some exciting prospects at the opposite end

Things can only get better, right?

GARETH BARKER

H The Wise Men Say podcast is available from every Monday, with SAFC debate from a variety of guests and post-match reaction from Gus Poyet. You can be stream it direct from wisemensay.co.uk or subscribe to it on iTunes.