Sunderland writers verdict on Lee Johnson, new signings and club's promotion chances after 10 League One games

Sunderland don’t have a game this weekend due to international fixtures – but there’s plenty to discuss about the season so far.

Saturday, 9th October 2021, 3:00 pm

Our SAFC writers Phil Smith and Joe Nicholson have been answering questions about the first ten league games of the campaign to deliver their verdicts on new signings, Lee Johnson and the Black Cats’ promotion chances.

How would you rate Sunderland’s start of the season?

PS: “Excellent.

Sign up to our Sunderland AFC newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Sunderland boss Lee Johnson.

“The performance at Portsmouth was a real setback and certainly not one to be swept under the carpet. But given the overhaul of the squad and the late arrivals in the transfer window, 22 points is an excellent return.

"The Carabao Cup journey so far has been hugely enjoyable and from a promising start, I think the quality of football will get even better.”

JN: “The Portsmouth defeat aside, it’s been a really encouraging start.

"Sunderland fans will hope the trip to Fratton Park was just a blip and that this young side will learn to adapt much better to those sorts of situations.

"The points total of 22 after ten games is marginally more than what the Black Cats have accumulated at this stage in previous League One seasons, yet, the side appears better equipped to sustain a promotion push, with a clear style of play and competition for places across the pitch.”

How much credit does Lee Johnson deserve?

PS: “The speed with which Sunderland have adapted to a new style has been impressive and deserves much credit.

"Most impressive has been the way players out of the side have stepped in and performed when needed. That's testament to the coaching and man management behind the scenes.

"He'd be the first to say that there's much still to do, though.”

JN: "The football Sunderland have played has been enjoyable to watch in most of their games so far and Johnson deserves a lot of credit for that.

"Ultimately, they have been getting results too and the Black Cats boss has managed his squad well so far, keeping players motivated when they are out of the side and rotating the team in the cup competitions.

"Johnson will admit he’s made mistakes – no one can get every decision right – and the side’s were naive at Portsmouth in awful weather conditions.

“There have also been times when Sunderland have been left hanging on to a slender advantage, when the head coach has brought on an extra defender to protect a lead, which proved costly at Fleetwood.

“Overall, though, Johnson has overseen a promising start."

Which of the new signings have impressed you the most?

PS: “Hard to look past Callum Doyle's consistency and quality so far.

“Come the season end, I think Dennis Cirkin will be right up there. Since settling in, his recent performances have been outstanding. What a find he looks to be.”

JN: “I don’t think many people would have expected Callum Doyle to have the impact he’s made, so I’d have to go with the Manchester City loanee.

"It’s easy to forget Doyle has just turned 18, given his composure on the ball and stature at the back.

"Dennis Cirkin looks like a really good find from Tottenham, and to sign him on a permanent transfer appears an excellent piece of business.

"I also think Thorben Hoffmann has given the side an upgrade in goal and helps Sunderland implement Johnson’s prefered style of play due to the keeper’s ability on the ball.”

What is your standout moment of the season so far?

PS: “It would have to be the opening goal against Wycombe Wanderers.

"A quick throw, a superb 1-2 between two academy products before Elliot Embleton's stunning strike into the far corner.

"A brilliant moment that just seemed to sum up how this team has very quickly changed.

“For similar reasons, Dan Neil's first senior goal, which he celebrated by running to the corner where he used to stand, will live long in the memory.”

JN: “There have been some memorable individual moments so far this season, which have been amplified by the return of supporters.

"To see 31,549 fans back at the Stadium of Light for the first game of the season against Wigan was a reminder of the buzz football brings.

“After over a year of games being played behind closed doors, the return of supporters has given everyone a lift.”

Based on the first ten games, do you think Sunderland are well placed to get promoted?

PS: “It's been a very good start and particularly when you look at the current table, which tells you Sunderland have played a lot of teams in good form.

"Looking at the performances, the attacking play is encouraging and the statistics tell you they maybe have a bit of work to do defensively to really maintain this run of results over a season.

"What's exciting is there are still a lot of players who have more to give.

"Alex Pritchard is getting up to full sharpness, as is Aiden McGeady, while Nathan Broadhead was just finding his feet before that hamstring injury.”

There are lots of reasons to be optimistic.”

JN: "Looking at the other teams who were tipped for promotion at the start of the season, Sunderland are one of the few who have justified that tag so far.

“The squad appears to have strength in depth but, as Johnson has pointed out, the big tests will come over the winter as conditions become tougher and this young squad is required to maintain their high standards.

“Sunderland have played a lot of the other sides who have also made good starts – Wigan, Wycombe, MK Dons and Bolton – so the early signs are encouraging.”

A message from the Football Clubs Editor

Our aim is to provide you with the best, most up-to-date and most informative Sunderland AFC coverage 365 days a year.

This depth of coverage costs, so to help us maintain the high-quality reporting that you are used to, please consider taking out a subscription to our new sports-only package here.

Your support is much appreciated. Richard Mennear, Football Clubs Editor