David Preece: No better time for Sunderland to click and throw caution to the wind for run-in
It feels strange looking forward to the start of a new season when I look at the League One table and see there’s only 13 games left to play for Sunderland.
At least 13, unless the play-offs need to be taken in to consideration, that is.
We can talk about how frustrating the amount of draws seem to have derailed a true title challenge, but I think it’s best we look at the season so far as solid.
Two losses so far this season has given Jack Ross’s side a firm platform to attack the home stretch and give it everything from here on out. That’s the way we should be looking at things; positively.
On the basis of performances we are where we deserve to be.
Fifth best defence, fourth best attack and a midfield that has been hit by injuries and suspensions.
If those draws suggest a cautiousness in their play, then the position they find themselves in now means they can afford to throw that caution to the wind.
That game in hand and a 10 point cushion means that draws, and even a couple more losses, won’t dent play-off hopes.
There is a sense that something hasn’t quite clicked yet, but the weight of expectation and the rise in performances in those wanting to cut down the mighty oak of the division will do that.
There have been some individuals shining in particular games, but cohesive isn’t a word that you’d use to describe the side.
Individual brilliance can win you games, but it’s the right combinations within the team that provide the real platform to success.
The right pairings in the centre of defence, a balance in midfield, full-backs and wide men working in synch and a forward line that compliments all of that work going on behind them.
It might sound overly simplistic, but there is more than a grain of truth in football being a game made complicated by those who play it.
I’m not under any illusion that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has done more than just tell his players to play with freedom and attack ‘the Manchester United way’, but his initial impact won’t have had much to do with intricately detailed tactics.
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The pressure of being a Sunderland player this season should have abated now.
The hard work has been done and just like a middle distance runner waiting for the bell, third place is perfectly positioned.
But the conundrum of management is to come up with that perfect combination of players who will give you the best chance of success and that is perhaps the one big negative of having such an extensive squad to choose from.
Seen as an asset early on in the season, it certainly has helped when suspensions and injuries have hit.
A wider choice can give you a headache when obvious decisions aren’t staring you in the face.
Smaller squads may give you headaches of a different kind, but it forces team selections upon you at times and that can be a blessing.
I liken it to the difference between England and abroad. More often than not, the pace of competitive English football makes your first option the right one to take, so you do or you’ll lose the ball.
Given time on the ball and different options some players become indecisive and those options end up closing down and you’re left in a cul-de-sac and your only option is to go back the way you came.
The season seems to just be simmering nicely to positive outcome, to me.
The Barnsley game in March is crucial in overhauling the four point gap to them, but even if that isn’t done, I’m confident about the play-offs.
Play-offs can throw up some strange results, but if I was one of the other three opponents, I wouldn’t want to be facing a team that had proved so difficult to beat.
This is a team that has been a side that has been cobbled together in a short space of time and still expected to do well. And it has done.
Everything might not have clicked quite just yet, but it’s a great time of the season for to start.