Alex Pritchard delivers this encouraging verdict on Sunderland's form and his eye-catching progress

The form of Alex Pritchard has been one of the key reasons why Sunderland's League One form looks to have turned for the better.

By Phil Smith
Thursday, 9th December 2021, 6:00 am

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He now has four consecutive starts to his name, and three goals in that period.

Head coach Lee Johnson had been so impressed with the 28-year-old against Oxford United that he had messaged him on the day of the Morecambe win, to urge him to replicate that 'bright and sharp' performance.

The response was exactly what he was looking for.

Alex Pritchard celebrates his goal

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Johnson said he felt the attacking midfielder has had a frustrating 18 months, but that we are now seeing the level he is capable of.

The exciting thing for supporters is that level looks above the third tier.

"His fitness looks like we’ve got 85 minutes of good tempo [now], and I know the good footballer in you will make the right decisions as long as you concentrate on all those things, the agility, the fitness," Johnson said.

"I think he enjoyed himself. It was a really good finish, and he wants to contribute.

"He’s on a good little run now of contributions and I think that’s a good sign for us, but also for him to show his return to what is his top form."

Pritchard was an early-season regular in terms of appearances, but so often it was from the bench.

Hampered by a lack of pre-season, limited appearances for Huddersfield Town in the first half of the year and a positive COVID test immediately after his arrival on Wearside, rhythm looked hard to come by.

Pritchard feels that is coming now, but he is adamant that now more than ever is the time to focus and kick on further.

"It has been difficult, with COVID and the lack of pre-season," he said.

"I was a bit in and out but I've had a bit of a run now and it's just down to me to keep working hard, to stay fit and to keep producing performances.

"It has been difficult for me but at the moment I'm having a good run.

"The thing for me is that I just need to get my head down and keep working, and make sure I don't get over confident.

"You've got to keep your feet on the ground and just keep playing your game.

"Consistency is massive in football and at the moment I've got that, and hopefully I can go and build on it.

"I'm just trying to help the players around me, it's a relentless league and we've all got to buy in, stick together when the chips are down.

"I think we've done that in recent weeks when the performances haven't been great, and tonight was very good for the team."

That Pritchard is nearing his best form is unarguable, but discussing that positive development he was eager to stress that it also owed much to an encouraging partnership blossoming behind him.

That was typified in his strike against Morecambe, set up by a wonderful Dan Neil turn and pass from the byline.

"It's just about [me] trying to have that freedom really, because I knows the boy behind me, especially Dan and Winch in that first half, when the ball turns over they are there," he said.

"They're good on the ball and when we win those second balls I can get facing the defenders, which is what my game is all about.

"Dan set me up for the goal as well, and I'm buzzing with that.

"Dan was very, very good. I think everyone knows the pitch is difficult at the moment so playing that sort of one-touch stuff is difficult.

"When he gets the ball on the half turn and he sprays the ball, those diagonals he plays tonight, it gets Lynden and Leon into the game.

"He's a good player, young and still learning, but he'll be growing in confidence."

The Morecambe win extended Sunderland's unbeaten run in the league to five games, and perhaps even more encouraging is that the team's attacking threat looks to be returning.

Pritchard said the group had built on an encouraging second half in an ultimately frustrating draw with Oxford United, and urged them to kick on again when Plymouth visit the Stadium of Light this weekend.

"The positivity in the group is really strong, as I've said before," he said.

"You look at that Oxford game... the first half performance was, OK, against a good team, but I think the second half performance collectively was really, really, good.

"We said it before the game tonight, we should have won that game, we had chances, hit the bar, hit the post. But we said before this game that we've got to take that second half performance and produce it right from the start.

"These can be difficult games and we needed to start really well.

"We were on the front foot, pressing well, winning second balls and attacking.

"It was a really good performance tonight.

"It's perfect for confidence throughout the group, for the boys up front and also in getting that clean sheet.

"It's a great result, what the fans want to see," he added.

"But we've got a big game at the weekend against a team that is up there, so it's about putting in another performance like that.

"When we are on the front foot, and I think you saw it in the second half against Oxford and pretty much the whole game here, when we're pressing and we win the second balls, we can turnover counter quickly.

"That's what we did tonight."

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