Former Sunderland striker Kevin Phillips has rued the fact Sunderland were unable to atone for their 4-0 defeat against Portsmouth this weekend due to the international break, as he spoke in an interview with Football Insider.
The Black Cats were scheduled to play Oxford United at the weekend due to their League One status, but the inclusion of Corry Evans and Tom Flanagan in the Northern Ireland squad, with Niall Huggins being called up to the Wales Under-23s squad, meant the game was postponed.
This has left Lee Johnson’s men with a two-week gap between last weekend’s clash at Fratton Park and next Saturday’s tie against Gillingham at Priestfield, although they are back in action on Wednesday evening in the EFL Trophy.
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However, this tie against Manchester United’s Under-23s team is of much less importance than their remaining league ties this term, with the Wearside club desperate to regain promotion to the Championship at the fourth time of asking.
In their quest to return to the second tier, they have won seven of their ten league games so far this season, have a game in hand over second-placed Wycombe Wanderers and two matches in hand over top-of-the-table Plymouth Argyle.
Johnson’s side and Wigan Athletic look like the teams to beat in the third tier as things stand, but Kevin Phillips has agonised over the timing of the international break, saying: “They must learn from it (the Portsmouth game). There will always be games when you are not at the races though.
“I was speaking to people who were at the game and they said Sunderland were terrible on the day. It was just a day to forget.
“Players did not perform and the conditions were difficult. It was a poor performance. You will allow it but it cannot be repeated.
“The worst thing for the players is the timing of the international break. They have had to stew on that result.
“They would have wanted to play today so they could get back to winning ways. Hopefully it doesn’t affect their campaign moving forward because they’ve been excellent so far.”
You can certainly see where Kevin Phillips is coming from.
The Portsmouth result will be playing on many Sunderland players’ minds and not being able to make amends for that until next weekend must be a real source of frustration.
Oxford United would have been a good opposition to face, especially this weekend. They may not be title contenders like Wigan Athletic are, but they are still expected to be pushing for the play-offs and a win against the U’s could have been a great confidence booster going into their next set of games.
You also have to consider the fact Lee Johnson is likely to omit some of his first-teamers from the EFL Trophy game against Manchester United on Wednesday, purely because of their League One tie at the weekend and the need to keep their fringe players happy.
On the other hand, they have been given a bit of respite with this international break and will have no shortage of energy going into their game against Gillingham next weekend.