International breaks in League One? It feels like forever since the eventful win at Bradford, and the counting down of the days until Sunderland return is almost over.
Shrewsbury lie in wait for The Lads tomorrow, and they are playing catch up with the rest of the promotion candidates picking up wins last week.
Coming away from Shropshire with three points is vital to keep up the pace at the top of the league.
Another sell-out away following will back The Lads this weekend, turning yet another away ground into an honorary home game. Shrewsbury have endured a difficult start to the campaign after losing
Paul Hurst to Ipswich in pre-season, but it’s another tricky game for Sunderland – another struggling side will raise their game, just as Bradford did a fortnight ago.
That aside, Sunderland should have the quality to win the game, and away wins are going to be crucial if silverware is going to be lifted come May.
Draws are all well and good, but turning those draws into wins is what we need to see more of, such as at Bradford and AFC Wimbledon.
The quality in the squad is coming through more and more in recent weeks, with the likes of Cattermole, Maguire, and McGeady stepping up, helping us through a difficult spell of injuries.
An increasingly important figure is Jon McLaughlin, and the Scottish stopper was rewarded with a call up to the national squad last week. A few shaky moments aside in the opening periods of the season, McLaughlin has been a real calming influence at the back, and recent penalty saves have proved crucial in picking up points against Fleetwood and Bradford.
Even without those saves, it’s nice to be able to rely on a goalkeeper again, to not have to panic every time a shot looks like it might be going on target (shots didn’t even have to be on target to go in against us last season), and to have confidence that the ball isn’t going to be spilled into the path of a centre-forward.
He seems comfortable playing from the back, fitting in the style of play implemented by Jack Ross and for me is rather an unsung hero. That is fine though, sometimes the goalkeeper is better off going unnoticed, because they were certainly never unnoticed last year.
In the next week, Sunderland face Shrewsbury and Doncaster, before Southend come to the Stadium of Light. With Doncaster currently in and around the promotion places, it is a big week, and nine points should be the target.
Winning at Doncaster, in particular, would make a statement, especially as we are now chasing down Portsmouth who are seven points ahead, albeit having played a game more.
Portsmouth are looking strong and consistent, and the game at Fratton Park is already shaping up to be a tasty one just before Christmas.
As for Saturday, weather the usual early storm typical of teams this season, and Sunderland should run out winners.