From The Durham Times: Misfiring Sessegnon Still Crucial To Cats

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18: Stephane Sessegnon of Sunderland in acton during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Sunderland at Emirates Stadium on August 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

It is Sunday, and that means just one thing around these here parts - we get to share out weekly Durham Times Sunderland AFC column with you lot who lacked the foresight to buy the paper copy!

You can pick up The Durham Times from any newsagents or supermarket worth it's salt, or alternatively head to their website - www.durhamtimes.co.uk - or you can find them on Twitter @DTSport for all the latest sporting news and articles from around the region.

The paper comes out on a Friday, and we bring you this on a Sunday. If it seems somewhat out of date then you can just go ahead and start buying the paper. In fact, we suggest you do that rather than read this.

Anyway... read on for our latest contribution.

Are you a 'glass half full' kind of person or a 'glass half empty' one? Because depending on the answer to that question, Sunderland are either unbeaten or winless in the league so far this season.

The draw against Liverpool was remarkable in the sense that it was probably a disappointing result. For the first time, perhaps in living memory, there was a genuine and tangible expectancy - not just on Wearside but further afield too - for Sunderland to beat the Reds.

In light of that, many fans have been critical of what they saw as needlessly negative tactics against Brendan Rodgers' goal-shy side, as the Black Cats sat back in their own half and looked to spring the kind of consistent counter attacking threat that produced Steven Fletcher's first half opener. But it never quite materialised and Sunderland became entrenched, unable to wrestle meaningful possession from their visitors and, for the third time this season, saw a lead slip away.

It has led many to wonder whether or not Sunderland have become a little too conservative in their approach to games this season. It is easy to see the roots of such a suggestion, but I remain unconvinced personally.

For me, Martin O'Neill's side are currently having to get by without the heartbeat of their side. Steven Fletcher's predatory touch in front of goal may have been grabbing the headlines and Adam Johnson's capture from Manchester City has caught the imagination, but make no mistake about it - this Sunderland team still very much revolves around the mercurial yet misfiring talents of Stephane Sessegnon.

A critical analysis of performances so far this season wouldn't look too bad at all. The defence has performed well in some very difficult games and there is a new sense of presence about Simon Mignolet in goal, too. There is nothing alarming about the passing success figure either. Generally speaking, the ball is being moved up the pitch relatively efficiently and comfortably.

But far too often this season when the ball is being delivered into the feet of the Sessegnon the advance up the pitch is grinding to a halt as the Benin international gives it away cheaply and quickly. I don't care how potent your forward players are or how adventurous your intent is - if the attack breaks down at its source, you are not going to be doing an awful lot of attacking.

It is a point that does not appear to have been lost on Martin O'Neill. It is rare, almost unheard of in fact, to hear the Sunderland manager publicly criticise his players. Yet he has dismissed Sessegnon's lack of pre-season preparation for his poor form.

"With Stephane it's just not happening for him at the moment. Some things you can put down to lack of fitness, other things you can put down to not brilliant play, really. Some of the things that you expect of him, like being able to keep the ball, not giving it away early in the game, wouldn't have anything to do with fitness."

Of course, no one is suggesting here for one moment that his place in the side should be under threat right now. Far from it. The team's struggles to assert itself without him on form is testament to his continued importance, and certainly not some new-found dispensability. Last season a Sunderland team without an available Sessegnon in it was unthinkable and nothing has really changed in that regard.

Sooner or later it is inevitable that Stephane Sessegnon will rediscover his game. It is what class players do and he is, without question, one of those. When that happens, Sunderland will be a whole new attacking prospect for their opposition.

Until then frustration will probably continue to reign, although they have probably already got three more points than they would have got last season without their talisman on top form.

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