The breakthrough performance at Fratton Park that bodes well for Sunderland's January signing

It was the pass that broke the game open.

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 4:45 pm

Portsmouth had suffered a shocking defeat on Saturday but this was always going to be a close affair.

In the opening ten minutes it was exactly that. Some threatening moments from either side, but no real incision.

Carl Winchester picked the ball up just inside his own half and caught the home side cold with a superb diagonal pass. There was much for Aiden McGeady to do from there but this is the service he relishes.

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Carl Winchester in action at Fratton Park

Only a stunning stop from Craig MacGillivray denied him but within seconds, Charlie Wyke had headed Sunderland into the lead from the following corner.

It was Winchester's first real contribution of the game but it was far from his last.

There were some more excellent switches, plenty of interceptions and throughout, a willingness to show for the ball and move it on quickly.

There have been flashes of his quality to date, backheel flicks at Ipswich and Cruyff turns at Burton Albion, but this was the performance that showed why Lee Johnson brought him to the club and in doing so, said that he had been playing below his natural level in League Two.

"Carl is going to be that kind of slow burner in terms of appreciation, but over 100 touches, 1,000 touches, you will see the quality he has got, the calmness and the composure," Johnson said.

"He hit a lovely diagonal that led to McGeady having the shot which forced the corner that we scored from.

"This is a big club and Winch hasn’t played at a club this size. The more we can encourage and support him, I think we will start to see more really good performances like tonight."

Winchester will be cup tied for Sunday's final at Wembley but there are some key games after that and this breakthrough performance could not have been more timely.

Johnson has spoken before of just how important Grant Leadbitter is even as he looks to move to a high-pressing and attacking style.

Football is about balance and Leadbitter's composure, as well as his ability to spot danger, is key.

Johnson knew Winchester well from their time together at Oldham but equally key was the data analysis that suggested he could replicate that metronomic quality in possession that Leadbitter has.

We have seen that from day one, but Johnson has also urged him to be a little braver at times in possession.

At Fratton Park he did both, his decision-making excellent.

Leadbitter is expected to battle through the pain barrier in the coming weeks, but there is a risk of a recurrence of the dislocated shoulder he suffered at Crewe Alexandra.

Even if his recovery progresses as hoped, he will not play every minute of a frenetic schedule between now and May.

The logic behind letting George Dobson leave in January and bringing WInchester in was that Leadbitter has a unique skill set that wasn't easily replicated by a current player in the squad.

Tuesday night suggested that was a good bet.

Sunderland's run-in is tough and they will need many more controlled performances like this one.

Winchester looks ready to step up and seize the chance to prove his worth not just at this level, but the next one too.

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