Stephen Elliott: Ron-Thorben Hoffmann's stunning Sunderland save shows why Bayern Munich rate him so highly
Lee Johnson would have been delighted with the two performances by the academy lads in the Papa John’s Trophy but I’d guess the Portsmouth result would have been fresh in his mind and one that he would have wanted to put right in the league a bit sooner.
On Saturday, Sunderland were faced with another tricky tie down at Gillingham. Johnson and the players would have known what was coming with Steve Evans’ direct style not a huge secret.
Gillingham didn’t surprise and Sunderland really struggled to get a foothold in the game in the opening exchanges. Gillingham did not give Sunderland any time or space on the ball early on and on the rare occasion when a red and white shirt did get on the ball there were sloppy aspects to their play.
Thankfully, before half-time Dan Neil - Sunderland’s best player on the day – decided to bring a bit of quality to the occasion and delivered a pin-point cross that Aiden O’Brien did well to tuck away.
The goal came at a great time and changed what would have been a dissatisfied half time dressing room into a rejuvenated one who had been roared off by the travelling 2,000 fans.
The goal gave Sunderland a lift and the Portsmouth result was soon disappearing from everyone’s mind when Flanagan rose bravely to score at the back post.
I felt both Flanagan and Callum Doyle were very good defensively up against a really strong and powerful Gillingham front line.
The result wasn’t a foregone conclusion when Elliot Embleton received his marching orders after 65 minutes for a rash challenge. It was perhaps a little harsh but when you ask the referee a question like he did then you always leave yourself open.
There have been times this season when I have questioned Johnson’s decision to bring an extra defender on but bringing Bailey Wright on after the sending off gave the Sunderland team that bit more know-how and strength in the back line.
Ron-Thorben Hoffmann made an invaluable save from a looping header that for all the life of me looked like it was heading in the top corner. He is starting to show why Bayern Munich rate him highly.
Other than that header and a few little scrambles in the box Sunderland looked very comfortable and more than deserved the three points.
As I mentioned last week, away results are going to have a big say when it comes to the end of season placings.
As a player, it’s difficult not to look at other challenging teams’ results when you come off the pitch. However when you have done your own job and put your three points in the bag it makes it that less worrying.
It’s another road trip on Tuesday and another big game. Crewe are struggling but that shouldn’t mean they should be taken any more lightly then they would any other team.
Crewe lost on Saturday but by all accounts they played well and deserved something from their game.
Another three points for Sunderland could see Johnson’s men at the top of the table with some games in hand. I know it’s still early days but there will be a big confidence growing with every passing week among the squad.