The story behind Grant Leadbitter's new role and Dion Sanderson's reappearance as Sunderland held by Northampton Town
Thousands of Sunderland fans will have watched the draw with Northampton Town via live streams – but there are those few moments that the cameras don’t capture.
We take a look at some of the moments you might have missed from the League One stalemate – from Grant Leadbitter’s new role to Dion Sanderson’s reappearance:
THE RETURNING FACES
There were a whole host of familiar faces back at the Stadium of Light for this clash – and the one that drew the most attention was Dion Sanderson.
The Wolves loanee saw his season cut short due to a troublesome back injury, but he has been an interested observer from afar in recent weeks. Indeed, the central defender posted a montage of memorable moments from his time at the Stadium of Light on Instagram this week.
Sanderson was joined in the stands by Arbenit Xhemajli, Tom Flanagan, Ross Stewart and Jake Vokins – and the latter trio could all be available for the League One play-offs.
But while Sanderson’s reappearance on Wearside got some fans excited, it doesn’t look as if he will be making a surprise return for the Lincoln City clashes.
GRANT LEADBITTER’S NEW ROLE AND THE STORY BEHIND IT
While the experienced midfielder was introduced as a second half substitute, he also played a role off the field in the first half.
With assistant manager Jamie McAllister serving the first game of a three-match stadium ban – with a three-game touchline ban to follow – Lee Johnson enlisted the help of Leadbitter in the technical area.
He joined Johnson, coach Andy Taylor and goalkeeping coach Lee Butler in delivering instructions to the players on the field during the first, with Leadbitter particularly vocal when it came to attacking and defensive set pieces.
It was the first time that the 35-year-old has undertaken such a role and it naturally led to speculation as to whether this could lead to a more long-term arrangement heading into the 2021/22 season.
But when quizzed on that post-match, Johnson was clear that the arrangement was simply to help provide an additional voice on the touchline given McAllister’s absence.
It will be interesting to see whether Leadbitter undertakes similar responsibilities as Sunderland head into the play-offs.
THE SMALL CHANGES MADE
With McAllister absent, there were some other changes made to Sunderland’s match day operation too.
The pre-match teamsheet exchange is usually something Johnson delegates to his assistant, but the head coach himself swapped the sheets himself on this occasion.
And in the pre-match warm-up, Taylor stepped-up to perform some additional duties as the players prepared for the game.
KYRIL LOUIS-DREYFUS’ NEW VANTAGE POINT
The Sunderland owner has been a regular at games since taking a controlling stake in the club in February – but Sunday’s draw was the first time he has watched a game from the directors’ box.
For much of the season, the luxury seats in the Premier Concourse were closed but they were reopened in recent weeks.
And having watched from other vantage points in previous games, Louis-Dreyfus took his seat in the box for the clash with Northampton Town.
He was once again joined by brother Maurice, who was last week confirmed as a director of the club.
TWO TELLING FIRST-HALF MOMENTS
For all Sunderland dominated the ball in the first half, their opportunities were few and far between.
Things weren’t clicking in an attacking sense for the Black Cats, and perhaps no moment better summed that up than when Jordan Jones played a short pass to a clearly offside Lynden Gooch as a promising moment came to pass.
While Lee Burge was relatively untroubled early on, it was concerning that Sunderland were unable to really stretch a visiting backline that was missing some key players from it.
Too often the Black Cats were sloppy in possession, squandering moments that could and perhaps should have yielded better chances.
They were also at times guilty of being too hesitant, with Jack Diamond among those to resist the temptation to shoot when the opportunity opened up.
It was a frustrating first half, and one that was characterised when Jones struck the corner flag in anger after failing to get onto a long ball as the first half ticked into injury time.
A CRUCIAL MOMENT THAT COULD NOT BE CELEBRATED
Carl Winchester’s first Sunderland goal was a moment that could not be celebrated, given that the side were keen to grab a second goal.
So as the former Forest Green Rovers man bundled home after Jones’ wicked strike, there was time for a point to the sky before the ball was hurried back to the centre circle.
Winchester has come close to scoring in recent weeks and this was a big moment for a man who is quick to acknowledge the fact he has not previously represented a club as large as Sunderland.
So here’s hoping there are further goals for the midfielder to celebrate moving forward.
For all Sunderland are entering the play-offs in disappointing form, so too are their next opponents.
Indeed, over the last six games Lincoln have gained just two points more than the Black Cats – having picked up eight points from their most recent six fixtures, compared to the six picked up by Sunderland.
In that regard, the Imps are a preferable option to either Oxford or Blackpool who both sit in the top three of the form table over the last six games.
But with Michael Appleton’s side having impressed throughout the season, it will no doubt be a difficult task for the Black Cats come the first leg on May 19.