Jack Ross shuffled his central defensive options again for the 1-1 draw with Portsmouth and he was pleased with Tom Flanagan’s impact - at both ends of the pitch.
Flanagan had been dropped following the chaotic 5-4 defeat to Coventry City earlier this month along with Jack Baldwin, with Ross favouring Alim Ozturk and Jimmy Dunne for the win over Doncaster Rovers and Peterborough United draw.
But Dunne was axed to the bench for the visit of Portsmouth, with Flanagan restored.
And he headed Sunderland ahead after just nine minutes, while he was sound defensively alongside Ozturk, snuffing out the Portsmouth attack, led by ex-Sunderland striker James Vaughan, roundly booed throughout.
Ross said: “We felt as if the game would suit Tom, and I thought he did very well.
“I thought he had a really good game defensively.
“He obviously scored, but his all-round performance was good. With the way we wanted to play, we wanted to try to squeeze the game a bit more, and I thought he did that really well.
“I think Jon [McLaughlin] had a quiet day, which you wouldn’t have expected given the quality of the opposition.
“I think that was testament to our performance, and the two central defenders played a big part in that, they were good.”
There were ugly scenes at the end of the game when both sets of players clashed, though it petered out quickly and no cards were shown, Flanagan was seen having to be calmed down before walking down the tunnel.
Ross added: “I haven’t looked at it or spoken to anybody about it (scenes after the game).”
There were also ugly scenes midway through the first half when the game had to be stopped for four minutes after a flare was thrown from the Portsmouth section in the Premier Concourse of the North Stand into the Sunderland fans below.
A fan was later arrested.
When asked if the delay had any impact on the game, Ross added: “It’s unfortunate it had to come to that (stopping the game), but there were no effects for either set of players.
“Once it settled down, we just got on with the game thereafter.”