George Dobson reflects on his Sunderland progress in typically honest fashion and has firm promotion message
It was a clash with Ipswich Town earlier in the season that underlined why George Dobson was different to most 21-year-old footballers.
Sunderland had been woeful at Portman Road, exceptionally fortunate to get away with a 1-1 draw.
Dobson had been a shining light, tenacious and combative when so many of his team-mates had been below par. It reflected well on the maturity and leadership qualities that had so impressed Jack Ross, who had battled to bring the midfielder in from Walsall even when behind the scenes his decision to push for another central midfielder was being challenged.
Afterwards, Dobson was scathing and refreshingly direct in his assessment of that performance.
It was clear that this was a footballer with plenty of character and we saw some of that again in the return fixture on Saturday.
Dobson was one of many who had looked a touch lethargic during the disappointing defeat to Portsmouth and there were many who felt the timing was perfect to introduce January signing Josh Scowen.
Phil Parkinson stuck with Dobson.
Like Ross, he raves about his approach, and he has a huge amount of trust in Dobson to execute the significant demands he places on the central midfielders in his system.
The first half was a struggle but Dobson roared back in the second.
He won second balls and moved the ball quickly, summed up by the way he pounced on the loose ball in the build-up to Chris Maguire’s crucial winner.
The intensity of life on Wearside is a new challenge for Dobson but it is no surprise to hear him say it is one he is relishing.
“It's been a tough journey for me coming from Walsall to Sunderland in the space of a season,” he said.
"The gaffer has put a lot of faith in me and I'm playing a lot of games so I'm just absolutely loving it.
"To play for a club of this size, with a fanbase like we have - what was it, 32-000 again today? - I'm loving it.
"Going from playing in front of 4,000 to 32,000, that's a massive jump, but that's why you want to play football - to play in front of crowds like these.
"Hopefully I can keep myself in the team for as long as possible and keep helping the team move forward.
"But I know I need to keep getting better and improving and I know I can do that.
"There's a lot of competition for places now,” he added.
“You can see with the players we've brought in, the squad is massive now. Just look at the players missing out on the squad on match days, quality players.
"For me to be keeping myself in the team is something I'm proud of, but it makes you want more. Hopefully I can play as much as possible until the end of the season."
Dobson’s revival in that second half was mirrored by his team, who took control of a contest they had been second best in.
“They just come out 100 miles an hour and I think you could see that they blew up in the second half, whereas we then stepped up another gear," he said.
"When teams come here they do tend to start with such an intense pace, and sometimes you do just have to have a 15-20 minute spell where you just weather the storm.
"Then when the second half comes you can see how fit and strong we are. We're keeping teams penned in in the second half.
"Today we had quite a few chances, Bailey hitting the bar etc, but we thoroughly deserved the win.”
Sunderland had been disappointing at Portsmouth last weekend but that second half was another example of what an effective side they can be and often have been of late.
The automatic promotion race remains wide open, but it will not have gone unnoticed that Ipswich were the only side in the top seven not to win over the weekend.
Consistency is crucial but Dobson believes Sunderland are firmly in the mix.
“The amount of crosses we got in the box, the amount of chances we created, on another day you score two, three or four goals,” he said.
"We've just got to keep doing the same things. We got another clean sheet as well and if you keep keeping clean sheets you're going to win games because you only need one do it.
"We're in a good place ahead of another big week. We'll recover now ahead of Tuesday which will be another tough test. When we played Rochdale earlier in the season they played some lovely football.
"It will be a tough game, but another we have to look to get another three points from.
“[Top two] 100 % has to be the aim,” he added.
"If you like at the table it's like a point difference between everyone, the gap is so small.
"Promotion will go to whoever can just sustain their run on a consistent basis.
"There's such a long way to go as well. We've still got 15 games to play so there's a lot of points to play for.
"We've just got to take each game as it comes."
Dobson is one booking away from a two-game suspension, but has no intention of adapting his game.
A break at some stage seems inevitable, but you suspect he will fight his way back in before long.