Tony Gillan: Victories over Sheffield United and MK Dons prove the main barrier to Sunderland winning promotion is a psychological one

Sunderland’s last two results are more than welcome with this season’s solid, but unspectacular first quarter about to pass.

Wednesday, 2nd October 2019, 11:45 am
Sunderland manager Jack Ross.

It would be an odd-bod who changed their mind about the general state of affairs at the club after the wins over Sheffield United and MK Dons.

Both games in their own ways served to confirm what many of us thought. The main obstacle to Sunderland clambering out of League One is a psychological one.

At Bramall Lane in the League Cup, as at Burnley, they were given what the more verbose might refer to as skinchies. They faced opposition from two leagues higher and were therefore immune from criticism.

Playing without worry gave them a certain freedom and they deservedly won both ties.

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Back in League One against MK Dons it was a more familiar display, lent some panache by two excellent goals.

It was 2-0 at half-time and discussion in the gents was of satisfaction, rather than an expected goal glut in the second half. And so it proved.

The Dons’ goal was wholly expected. They hadn’t scored in their previous three games, but Sunderland’s inability to keep a clean sheet – one in 18 league games – is a column in itself.

The fans almost don’t mind conceding one, such is the near certainty of it. Of more concern is the mental fragility of their team once they have something to lose.

As soon as it was 2-1 Sunderland’s main concern was not conceding a second; rather than scoring a third.

This was despite opposition with a somewhat obliging defence. Ultimately it was only the final whistle that ended the game, not Sunderland’s front line, if you see what I mean.

“Oh well. We won” was the only analysis required. What else could be added?

So two wins in four days. Fine, but no sign of any real change. Sunderland still look destined for another stack of draws.

As I said, most of their problems are between their ears. The more they worry about conceding, the more likely it is to happen.

So don’t worry. Worry is, at best, an entirely useless emotion. It makes them play well within themselves, certainly in the League.

Jack Ross made some uncharacteristically spiky comments about this after another uninspiring win, at Accrington Stanley.

He had a point about some of his critics; some of whom have gone overboard to the point of infantility.

Nevertheless, the lack of wisdom in what he said was compounded afterwards by two perfectly dreadful points-dropping exercises against Rotherham and Bolton.

In response to a suggestion made by precisely no one, Ross said: “It’s an absolute fallacy to believe a team that wins promotion or a league title plays good (sic) every weekend.

“It’s absolute nonsense. In reality they probably play well in 50% of their games and then grind out wins in the other games.”

If he was suggesting that Sunderland have played well in half of their games, it seems a remarkably generous assertion.

We’ve all had a good look at League One now and, their own limitations notwithstanding, we wonder what Sunderland see in their opponents that makes them fret.

They have no reason to worry about anything other than scoring the next goal.

Get into them!