Sunderland are on a quest to return to the Premier League and in the early stages, it is going swimmingly well.
The Black Cats have won four of their last five matches and the most recent punishment they handed out – a comfortable 3-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday – has propelled them into fourth position after nine matches.
Tony Mowbray’s side put in a truly domineering display at Hillsborough, recording 68% possession, six shots on target, an xG of 1.57 and accurately completing 91% of their passes, as per Sofascore.
If Sunderland can translate that level of performance into their fixture against Watford this evening, the visitors could be in trouble.
The Hornets have conceded three goals in each of their last two matches as defeats against Leeds United and Middlesbrough have highlighted their defensive frailties that the likes of Jack Clarke and Mason Burstow will be looking to exploit.
Ahead of this Championship clash, Mowbray has had to deal with a worrying pile up of injury concerns with a few key players absent.
What is the latest Sunderland team news?
Speaking in his pre-match press conference, the veteran manager revealed that an injury to an unnamed key player could make the team sheet look very different this evening.
Sunderland were already expected to be without Timothee Pembele, Dennis Cirkin, Aji Alese, Corry Evans, Pierre Ekwah and Bradley Dack, but it appears that injury list has now become even longer.
Refusing to reveal who had picked up an injury following the win over Wednesday, Mowbray made it clear that the player would be a huge loss going into their match against Watford.
He said: “Without telling you everything, we’ve had to do some tactical changes today.
“You’ll see the team when it comes out, but there’s a big difference with the injury that’s been picked up.”
Whoever the missing player is will need someone to step up and be counted in their absence, similar to how Alex Pritchard has more than replaced the injured Bradley Dack by putting in a string of superb performances.
How has Alex Pritchard performed this season?
A lot can change in a short period of time in football and Pritchard’s renewed importance to the first team emphasises that mantra. In the summer, he was deemed surplus to requires after Sunderland didn’t offer him a new contract and Mowbray was under the elusion that he was going to depart.
He said: “I don’t want to get too prescriptive about it, but it looks like Pritch is going to leave the football club. We have to move past that, we have to move on – that’s football.”
With Mowbray consigned to losing his attacking midfielder, the 30-year-old was expected to find another club but a deal to lure him away from Wearside never materialised, and the former Tottenham man remained at the club after the deadline.
Having come off the bench in each of the first six Championship matches, Pritchard would get his chance to shine after Pierre Ekwah hobbled off with an injury against Queens Park Rangers, and it’s an opportunity that the Englishman has welcomed with open arms.
Since making his first start of the campaign against Blackburn, the £7k per-week wizard – previously dubbed by Christian Eriksen as “skilful” and “one for the future” – has chalked up two assists in his last three appearances.
With Pritchard’s creative juices beginning to flow, he has become the hub of Sunderland’s chance creation, making 1.4 key passes per game, recording an 83% pass completion, creating four big chances with an expected assist (xA) of 2.17, as per SofaScore.
Sunderland’s supporters would have feared the worst when Dack and Ekwah sustained injuries but Pritchard’s redemption arc in the starting XI is a timely reminder of how quickly things can change in football.