A surprising Sunderland hero emerges against Walsall and he could play a key role in the promotion push
After the feast of football we’ve had recently, it’s crazy to think that there are a whole 16 days before Sunderland kick a ball in League One again.
It has been Saturday-Tuesday-Friday-Tuesday-Saturday for what feels like the last two months and with Jack Ross now seemingly settled upon a first XI, there have been definite signs of tiredness creeping into the side.
The fans will have felt it too, hammering the flexi-time to facilitate midweek trips to Bristol and Barnsley as well as the home games - if there ever was a feeling that we’re all in it together, it’s definitely the case that we’re all feeling knackered together.
With our involvement in the Checkatrade Trophy Final on March 31 and international calls-up putting the skids on our fixture against Fleetwood Town a week before, by the time we attempt Accrington Stanley - The Second Coming on April 3 - we’ll be another two games behind the front-runners in the league.
By this time, we may well have exited Europe. Taking in a midweek fixture at Accrington will be just the escapism we need as we take a break from fighting over the last bottle of olive oil in Asda.
We’ll have some ground to make up on the likes of Luton and Barnsley, but arguably, the unscheduled mid-season break could be just what we need in order to recharge the batteries.
It was essential that we got back to winning ways on Saturday to go into this break on a high, so the relief felt from Will Grigg’s winning strike against Walsall was tangible.
At times, it looked like it was going to be one of those days as the Saddlers notched an early goal and were hell bent on coming away from Wearside with something to show, as they embarked in the timewasting and gamesmanship we have become accustomed to from sides visiting the Stadium of Light this season.
We were second best throughout the first half as we struggled to get into any kind of rhythm, while the gale force winds that seemed to come from every direction were causing all kinds of problems for both sets of players.
Even simple six-yard passes across the deck were wind-affected, which only served to pile more pressure on the home team.
However, an unlikely hero emerged on Saturday afternoon in the shape of Charlie Wyke. Much-maligned since his return to fitness following a prolonged spell on the sidelines, Wyke has been like a hexagonal shape in a square hole for Jack Ross.
That is, until Saturday. Within seconds of his introduction he adroitly backheeled a long pass into Grigg’s path, taking two defenders out of the game and allowing the Northern Irish international to hammer home his first goal in open play at the Stadium of Light.
That one moment could well signal a turnaround in Wyke’s fortunes on Wearside.
While 4-4-2 is not expected to be Jack Ross’ preferred formation from the start, he will bring a second striker in when the game requires it, and to have a Charlie Wyke high on confidence and champing at the bit to get on the pitch and make a difference could well be our secret weapon for the rest of this season.
l The Wise Men Say podcast is available from every Monday, with SAFC debate from a variety of guests. You can stream it direct from wisemensay.co.uk or subscribe to it on iTunes