Proactive subs a breath of fresh air as Sunderland show their talent and character

Given the club's recent history, any time a Sunderland side come from behind to win a game is a moment to savour.

Sunday, 26th August 2018, 11:25 am
Updated Sunday, 26th August 2018, 11:30 am
Alim Ozturk competed well in the second half at Kingsmeadow

To do it twice in consecutive games, away from home, is a superb achievement that speaks of a resilient, united group of players.

AFC Wimbledon was by some distance the toughest challenge of the League One campaign to date.

The home side enjoyed a significant height advantage all over the pitch, unconventionally operating with two genuine target men.

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It was a nightmare to defend against, pulling the centre-backs out of position and bringing the opposition midfield into play in dangerous areas.

In the first half, Andy Barcham popped up right across the front line, comfortable in the knowledge that his strikers were likely to win the ball and free him in space.

Sunderland were outplayed and outfought.

Already, however, the Black Cats are building something of a reputation for riding pressure and punishing teams when the opportunity presents itself. Goals have been coming from every area of the pitch and when Lee Cattermole scores twice in one game, you know the attacking system is functioning superbly well.

Suddenly Sunderland have three wins in a week, an encouraging start turning into an outright excellent one.

From these performances two things have stood out.

One is that Ross is getting performances and contributions right throughout his squad.

Lee Cattermole has come in from the cold to lead from the front this week.

Most notably, the Black Cats boss put his faith in Alim Ozturk with Glenn Loovens struggling at the break.

Ozturk has endured a difficult start to his Sunderland career and it would have been easy for Ross to ask Loovens to push through the pain barrier, or change his system to hide Ozturk from what was a bruising encounter for defenders.

Instead, Ozturk delivered his best performance for Sunderland by a considerable distance and will take a major confidence boost into the coming weeks.

It is easy to keep morale high when you are winning games but it speaks volumes for Ross and his man management that players are producing even when they have previously been left out.

This was also another game in which Ross's tendency to make substitutions early helped bend the game in Sunderland's direction. The visitors had been sucked into a physical battle with Wimbledon but the early introduction of Dylan McGeouch brought them some composure and time on the ball.

With the tide slowly turning, the swift arrival of Bryan Oviedo added that extra bite and drive.

It has been a while since Sunderland have had a manager so proactive with his changes. Some day they will not pay off and Sunderland will be hurt, but already he can point to two games where potentially zero points have turned into three.

There were a number of tactical changes that made a difference, too.

George Honeyman was pushed a touch further forward in the second half and it helped give Sunderland an extra outlet that they desperately needed. His drive and first touch was excellent and brought others into play.

Ross is clearly able to communicate his ideas effectively and that he is maintaining such a healthy spirit in the camp while being ruthless in his decisions bodes well for the season ahead.

Of course, Sunderland rode their luck.

Wimbledon will bemoan two glorious chances missed with the score at 1-1, while they also felt aggrieved that Chris Maguire was not penalised for an apparent goalline handball.

Ever the perfectionist, Ross will be frustrated that this habit of starting games slowly has cost them on three occasions.

Sunderland's individual quality in attack has at times this week carried them through difficult spells.

But their character has earned some luck and with two home games on the horizon, they have the chance to build a real head of steam.

With key players returning to action, it feels as if they are only just getting started.