Sunderland’s play-off hopes took another dent last night as second-place Sheffield United beat them 2-1.
The result leaves the Black Cats in 12th with nine games to go, whilst the Blades keep the gap between them and Middlesbrough to six points.
Although the points are a vital miss for Tony Mowbray’s side, there was plenty to take from the result itself, and here are five key points we have taken from last night’s action at the Stadium of Light.
Edouard Michut NEEDS to be Made a Permanent Signing
The home side’s only goal scorer showed just why he was brought to Wearside in the summer.
The PSG loanee took his goal in the 30th minute very well, after being thread-through by fellow Frenchman Abdoullah Ba and slotting it in the far corner to put his team ahead.
Michut has taken a while to adapt to the English game, but since the turn of the year has looked more and more of a presence in midfield alongside Dan Neil and Ba.
According to Fabrizio Romano on Twitter, there is a deal in place with both Sunderland and the French champions to make the youngster’s move to Wearside permanent for €2.5m – to rise up to €5m if Premier League football is achieved.
Regardless of whether the Black Cats gain promotion back to the top flight, it goes without saying that Michut should be at the top of Mowbray’s shopping list come the beginning of the summer transfer window.
Sheffield United’s Hunger Is Why They Should CRUISE to Automatic Promotion
Paul Heckingbottom’s side, despite their turbulent run of form, proved the quality that has them knocking on the door of the Premier League.
The Blades came into the game off the back of a 1-0 defeat to play-off hopefuls Luton Town, but managed to turn their fortunes around.
Goals from Manchester City loan pair James McAtee and Sky Bet Man of the Match Tommy Doyle completed the comeback and sealed the three points for the visitors.
United still have to play Blackburn, Norwich, Burnley and Preston – all of which are in the top eight in the league – and relegation-threatened Wigan, Cardiff and Huddersfield.
It is a tough run-in for the Blades, but with they should pick up maximum points from the teams battling for survival.
This – complimented with third place Middlesbrough also needing to play five promotion-hopeful teams – should see Sheffield United just about clinch automatic promotion over Michael Carrick’s Boro.
Tommy Doyle’s Goal Should NOT Have Stood
After being 1-0 down, the Blades managed to nick a goal back before the end of the first half and then again in the second half.
Tommy Doyle’s free-kick on the hour mark put the visitors ahead as it managed to find its way into the net.
However, it wasn’t until the replays came up that it shows that there was a clear offside call from Sander Berge that doesn’t get chased up in the moment.
Berge intends to play the ball, as well as two of his teammates being offside, making it an interference to play.
Blades boss Paul Heckingbottom said after the game that “if I’m Tony [Mowbray], I’m claiming for that 100 percent offside.”
Mowbray said in his press conference that he believes “It would be great if the officials could come in here and explain why the second goal was allowed to stand.
“I sit here every game and try my hardest not to criticise officials, but every game there’s a bit of carnage going on.
“We can’t always blame officials but I do feel I can sit here today and say they got it badly wrong today,” the Black Cats boss added.
The Future of SAFC Looks Bright
Despite the result, Sunderland’s array of young players showed again that there is some serious talent donning the red and white stripes.
The aforementioned Edouard Michut and Abdoullah Ba have been an excellent pairing in the middle of the park, alongside homegrown Dan Neil.
Manchester United loanee Amad Diallo has been one of the shining lights this season, who will no doubt be healthy competition for Antony when he returns to Old Trafford next season.
Another youngster who has come bursting out of the box for Sunderland this season is 21-year-old defender Trai Hume, who has cemented his place in the squad and should in contention to be Player of the Season.
A lot of the young talent are in demand – including 15-year-old Chris Rigg – but if they manage to tie down these young players, the future could look bright at the Stadium of Light.
The Black Cats average a squad age of 23.2, the youngest in the Championship.
Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and Kristjaan Speakman clearly have a youth-driven model for the Sunderland project, which could prove to be a very exciting prospect if everything goes swimmingly on the pitch.
The Play-Offs Look Out of Sight
Even though the result makes the possibility of both teams appearing in the lottery that is the play-offs, the effect that it has had on the teams around the top six spots makes it just as important.
With nine games remaining of the season, there are realistically eight teams in the fight for the final four places.
Middlesbrough would’ve hoped that neighbours Sunderland would’ve done them a favour so they could keep up the chase with Sheffield United.
Boro, Luton, Blackburn and Millwall currently occupy the illustrious spots, but Norwich, West Brom, Coventry and Watford hope that they can replace them come May.
Unfortunately, it looks highly unlikely that Sunderland will be able to creep into the top six, especially given that they still need to play Luton, Burnley, West Brom and Watford.
The Black Cats also have to make the trip to Preston North End, who themselves will also feel like their play-off hopes are out of reach.
Despite their best efforts – and some may put it down to the decisions of officials – it looks like Mowbray’s team will have to look to rebuild for another season in the second division, this time without Amad Diallo and potentially Ross Stewart.
But as mentioned before, if the Wearsiders play their cards right and do good business in the summer, then there is no reason that they can’t give it their all and hope to make a return and compete among England’s elite.