Sunderland's Championship return: The highs and lows of a dramatic start to the season on Wearside
Sunderland return to Championship action this weekend after making an impressive start to their campaign.
The Black Cats sit fifth in the table ahead of the visit of Preston North End, and as preparations for that game ramp up we’ve been reflecting on the season so far and some of the main ups and downs.
You can read Phil’s early verdicts below, as well as your own from social media...
Highlight of the season so far
The joy of Jewison Bennette's goal at Watford was as much about the passage of play that led to it. It looked as if the game was getting away from Sunderland against a powerful and experienced side, but a host of young players turned the tide and dominated the closing stages. They even looked for a short while like they could go on and win it.
Sunderland are yet to lose a game by more than a single goal, which sums up how well they've competed in the early stages of their Championship return. Most importantly they've done it their way, and that's why this was such an exhilarating 20 minutes or so to watch.
@themightynews - our style of [email protected]_Matthew - Reading [email protected] - the performance away at [email protected] - Reading away, I think that was a statement win to the rest of the [email protected] - Opening day crowd display
Worst moment of the season so far/biggest frustration
It will be interesting come the end of the season to see if the relative trajectories of Sunderland and Stoke City mean Alex Neil's departure is the obvious answer to this question. It was such a disappointing end to a brilliant few months for a coach who had so thrived on Wearside, and who had proven himself one of the best tacticians in the EFL.
So far Tony Mowbray has done an excellent job of managing a potentially really difficult transition, and there's no doubting that he appears far more comfortable working within Sunderland's model.
For now then we'll go with a slightly different one. Neil had looked less than delighted during his post-match press conference at Bristol City, which seemed odd given it had been a truly brilliant comeback win. It soon transpired the head coach had more than likely discovered that Nathan Broadhead had, at the very last moment, opted to move to Wigan Athletic on loan rather than join Sunderland in a permanent deal. The frustration is two-fold because he brought something completely different to the forward line last season and given recent injuries, he'd already have had three major opportunities to make his mark in the starting XI.
That just edges out Seny Dieng's late equaliser for [email protected] - Stewart [email protected] - Letting a 2-0 lead slip vs [email protected]_Benson - Alex [email protected]_Keeling - the whole Alex Neil [email protected] - Boro (A) only game I thought we were [email protected] - Alex Neil Leaving
An obvious answer but how can you not go for Jack Clarke's goal against Reading? Less than 20 seconds and just 12 touches to get from Anthony Patterson the bottom corner. Eight players were involved in a team goal so good, many fans struggle to remember a better one in their years of following Sunderland.
Then you have to include the context - Sunderland had a lot of success playing fairly direct to two brilliant centre-forwards in the opening weeks of the season. This showed they could respond to the adversity of losing that pair and actually thrive playing a completely different way.
And best of all, the goal was scored right in front of 2,000 travelling fans who had made the long round-trip midweek, and would have been fearing the worst when Ellis Simms went down injured. A brilliant [email protected] - Jack Clarke v [email protected] - Jewison Bennette v Watford
@jakeyholyoak – Lynden Gooch chip v Sheffield United
Player of the season so far
It seems remiss to look past Ross Stewart, who has almost instantly looked like one of the best all-round centre forwards at Championship level. Should he recover well from his thigh problem, he could still get himself in contention again to be top scorer in the league.
I'm going to award it jointly, though, to Danny Batth and Corry Evans.
Both have emphatically proved they are still good enough for this level, and they've been the glue which has held together a very talented but inexperienced squad. Alex Pritchard has had a similar impact further forward, to his [email protected]_91 - Ross [email protected] - Danny [email protected]_Keeling - Corry Evans as when he doesn’t play it falls [email protected] - Lynden [email protected] - Danny Batth
Young player of the season so far
Only Ilias Chair and Ross Stewart have been directly involved in more Championship goals than Jack Clarke this season, which is a brilliant return given the first six months of his Sunderland career showed lots of promise but just lacked the consistent end product.
Add to that how much work he's put in tracking back in his slightly unusual wing-back role and it's hard to look past the 21-year-old.
There have been one or two tough games in there as well for Clarke but given his style and workload, you have to accept that. He's done superbly.
Dennis Cirkin's impressive consistency also more than deserving of a [email protected]_davo4 - Jack [email protected] - Jack [email protected] - Jack [email protected] - Dennis [email protected] - Dennis [email protected] - Anthony Patterson
Player you want to see more of
I'm interested to see where Amad is going to fit into this team on a regular basis, as he was so impressive at Watford. He's clearly got the pace to stretch defences through the middle but I loved the way he drifted out wide and dragged defenders with him at Vicarage Road.
And it was some debut for Abdoullah Ba, too, who looks good with both feet and with a real drive to get past his opposition midfielders. Hopefully these players can start to address one of the few big issues from the opening ten games - which has been a lack of depth on the bench for whoever is in charge. Mowbray trusted them at Watford and they repaid him massively. Hopefully that can [email protected] - Jewison looks unreal but would love to see Edouard [email protected]_91 - Abdoullah [email protected] Jewison [email protected]_Keeling - Patrick Roberts. Every day [email protected] - Amad Diallo
Overall mark out of 10
To be fifth ten games into the campaign is a brilliant effort - though there are remarkably only five points between the play-off and the relegation zone at this stage of the campaign.
Perhaps more significant is that the Black Cats are currently tracking at 1.5 points-per-game, which if replicated over the course of the season would almost guarantee a top-ten finish.Optimism was high coming into the campaign but there were always some doubts given how few of these players were tested at the level. They've not only proved their ability, but Sunderland have competed playing an aggressive, front-foot style.
It's an 8.5/10, the only disappointments being Neil's departure (especially the fractious manner of it) and some points dropped in the latter stages of games. The key question is to what extent these young players can maintain their form over the course of a long campaign, but it's so far, so [email protected] - [email protected] - [email protected] - [email protected] - 9, exceeded my early [email protected] - 8 - Great [email protected] - Solid 8