Stephen Elliott: This is what went wrong at Fleetwood Town and why Tom Flanagan was such a miss for Sunderland

With seven games played and Sunderland sitting joint top of the table it’s been an impressive start to the season.

Monday, 20th September 2021, 5:00 pm

Most Sunderland fans would have definitely taken this before a ball was kicked.

However, I still can’t help but feel that Saturday was two points dropped on the Fylde coast.

We have spoken a lot this season about how impressive Sunderland have been in finding a way to win games when they go in front. This weekend unusually the team seemed to forget their tools for doing that job.

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Sunderland dropped two points away at Fleetwood Town at the weekend.

Yes, Fleetwood had caused Ron-Thorben Hoffman - who I must say was very impressive - a few problems during the game but after getting to the last 10 minutes with a two goal advantage, it should have been game, set and match and back up the road.

Sunderland just didn’t keep the ball well enough in the later stages and invited Fleetwood back into game, which in fairness they duly obliged.

I mentioned in last week’s column how pleasing it was to see some strong relationships developing in the team and how it boded well for the future.

But on Saturday I felt our centre-back pairing never looked fully comfortable alongside each other.

With Tom Flanagan suspended Lee Johnson had to shuffle his pack and bring Bailey Wright into the team alongside Callum Doyle.

I have a lot of time for Wright and rate him as a defender but on Saturday I think it showed that both himself and Doyle had not played together a lot.

There seemed to be a lack of chemistry in the central pairing compared to what we have seen all season. There were too many occasions both Wright and at times Doyle found themselves dragged out of position, even before both goals for Fleetwood were scored.

I believe if Flanagan had have been fit then Sunderland would have won the game.

It may seem that I’m pointing the finger at the defence only but I think Saturday showed just how important Flanagan has become.

Wright was at fault for both goals too and the mistakes were purely down to a lack of concentration on his part.

When you haven’t played much football then it’s difficult to come in and be fully ready for the 90 minutes, especially in a position that is so vital.

Your mind gets tired more so than your body and you make the wrong decisions and I think this was the case with Wright for both goals. I’m sure he will bounce back though as he has a strong mentality.

A share of the spoils away to Fleetwood is not the worst result but it’s the manner of the draw that will upset Lee Johnson more than anything.

On a positive, I felt Ross Stewart once again showed that he is one of the best forwards in the division.

With another goal he really is becoming the real deal.

Aiden McGeady looked backed to his best also, which was pleasing, as I felt he looked a little jaded in recent weeks.

The promotion push still looks very much on.

There is a busy period coming up over the next few weeks but looking at the fixtures I feel Sunderland have games, especially the two at home, that are very winnable.

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