Alex Pritchard faced a real uncertain future over the summer after he was released by Huddersfield Town after a disappointing spell with the Terriers at the end of last season.
The 28-year-old’s technical quality and natural talent have never really been in question. However, he struggled to ever fully establish himself as a crucial member of the Huddersfield side.
During the last few years in the Championship after the Terriers were relegated from the Premier League the attacking midfielder found game time harder and harder to come by.
Despite Pritchard’s spell with Huddersfield not going as well as anyone would have been hoping for after his big-money move from Norwich City in January 2018, Sunderland made the decision to offer the 28-year-old a two-year contract at the Stadium of Light and hand him the chance to get his career back on track.
It was a signing that on paper at least seemed to be a quality one to be making at League One level. Lee Johnson would have been hoping that Pritchard’s Championship and Premier League experience could add a new dimension to his options this term.
The Black Cats would also have been hoping that Pritchard could have taken some of the creative burden away from Aiden McGeady, who Sunderland have perhaps been over-reliant on in recent campaigns.
So with Pritchard now a few months into his spell at the Stadium of Light, we assess how things have gone for him so far, what issues he faces and also look forward to what could be next for him…
How’s it gone so far?
It has not perhaps been the excellent start to life at the Stadium of Light that Pritchard would have been hoping for.
So far, he has not yet been able to fully establish himself within Sunderland’s strongest possible starting line-up in the third tier.
Pritchard has been handed just one start for Sunderland in League One this season and that came during their 1-0 win against AFC Wimbledon at the Stadium of Light.
During that game the 28-year-old had 29 touches of the ball during his 72 minutes on the field and managed a passing accuracy of 73%.
However, he was unable to add much creativity to the side with him failing to make a key pass or have an attempt on goal.
The attacking midfielder though has shown some flashes of his potential quality from the bench for Sunderland so far this season in League One.
Johnson has brought him onto the field against MK Dons, Burton Albion, Wycombe Wanderers, and Accrington Stanley and they went on to win three of those matches.
The League Cup though has been where Pritchard has had the most chances to show what he can bring to this Sunderland side.
The Black Cats have secured wins against Port Vale, Blackpool, and Wigan Athletic to reach the last 16 of the competition. The 28-year-old has played a key role in all three games registering an assist in each one to show what he can bring to the side for them.
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What issues does he face?
Obviously, the main issue that Pritchard faces at the moment at Sunderland is trying to force his way into their starting line-up on a regular basis in League One.
Getting ahead of Elliot Embleton in the number ten position at Sunderland is something that is going to be very challenging considering that he has been enjoying a strong start to the campaign.
That comes with the 22-year-old having already registered two goals and three assists in his seven appearances in the league so far this term in what has been an impressive spell following his return from a loan spell at Blackpool.
While Pritchard also faces difficulty in getting himself into the starting line-up in a more of a wide position. The likes of McGeady and Lynden Gooch have been performing well and have established themselves in those positions at the start of the campaign.
The attacking midfielder is going to have to bide his time and remain patient and perhaps wait for any injury or suspension issues to occur to the players who are ahead of him in the pecking order.
You sense that Pritchard still has something to prove to Johnson, and he will have to fully convince the Sunderland manager over his qualities if he has any chance of coming into the side from the start regularly.
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Sunderland advancing into the last 16 of the League Cup should provide Pritchard with a real chance to show what he can do once again from the start in another cup clash.
The Black Cats will take on a QPR side that have started the season well in the English second tier. They are also coached by Mark Warburton who knows all about Pritchard’s qualities from their time together at Brentford.
Pritchard will need to bring his best level of performance to that game and if he could impress against QPR from the start. That might convince Johnson that he deserves another chance to come into the side for their League One fixtures.
It does seem like in the immediate term, Pritchard will have to continue to settle for cameo roles from the bench. The 28-year-old will have to try and make more telling contributions as a substitute to earn his place in the starting line-up at some stage.