98 duels won: SAFC beast with 14 interceptions has been an unsung hero for Johnson – opinion

98 duels won: SAFC beast with 14 interceptions has been an unsung hero for Johnson – opinion

Sunderland have endured a difficult run of form in League One of late and find themselves seventh in the table after 15 games played.

The Black Cats have at least one game in hand over all of the teams above them in the table but have lost five of their last six matches in all competitions.

Lee Johnson’s side are still in a terrific position to kick on if they are able to get back on the right track and have won nine of their 15 matches, with 28 points already on the board.

Unsung hero

One player who has played a key role in Sunderland’s strong season overall and has been an unsung hero at the heart of the defence is centre-back Tom Flanagan. The Northern Ireland international may not get the credit forward players like Aiden McGeady and Ross Stewart get, but he is equally as important to the cause.

Johnson has a wealth of centre-back options at his disposal and Flanagan has emerged as an undroppable member of his back four. Frederik Alves, Callum Doyle and Bailey Wright provide strong competition for the starting spots in that position, but the 29-year-old has started 14 of the club’s 15 League One matches – highlighting how much the head coach relies on him.

His performances on the pitch back up Johnson’s trust in him. He has averaged a sublime SofaScore rating of 6.99 in League One – the highest out of all of the defenders at the Stadium of Light. This shows that he has performed to a consistently high level this season and is proving that he can be a reliable option week-in-week-out at this level for Sunderland.

Defensively, he has been sublime. Per SofaScore, the beast has won a whopping 98 duels and made 18 tackles and 14 interceptions. He has also made 70 clearances and won 67% of his ground battles over the course of the season, flexing his defensive strength. Along with that, he has also only been dribbled just past four times all season as he has established himself as a defender who is hard for League One attackers to get past on the deck.

These statistics highlight Flanagan’s excellent displays in the third tier this season and show why he has been an unsung hero for the club. He should be praised as much as the likes of Stewart and McGeady as his solid defending provides the platform for them to work their magic in the final third.

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