At this stage, I think we've seen more than enough of Steven Fletcher and Jozy Altidore at the apex of our team to conclude it's time for a change in the central striking role. Surely Gus Poyet is beginning to feel the same. For the League Cup final he used Fabio Borini as a lone striker and in the main it worked extremely well. The Italian has become our main goal threat, along with Adam Johnson, and with his movement, energy and finishing ability, now is the time for Poyet to play him centrally from the start in the upcoming, crucial games against other sides in the bottom half.
Moving Borini to the middle does leave an obvious problem, however; who to play on the left. Against Manchester City, where we were playing a more reactive game, Poyet opted for the usually defensively solid, central player Jack Colback to operate in that area. As a tactic and in those circumstances, it worked exceptionally. Against a defensively organised side - like Crystal Palace were this weekend - would he offer enough going forward, if the rest of the midfield was made up of the likes of Larsson, Cattermole and Ki? Probably not.
That's not to say a shift in personnel in other areas, wouldn't allow it work. Previously, against Southampton in the FA Cup, Poyet employed an interesting, almost asymmetrical formation, involving Borini and Nacho Scocco as nominal strikers, with Craig Gardner pressing high up through the middle. Giaccherini was left to operate in a floating role from the left. Given this was an FA Cup tie in which a number of changes were made, the personnel might not be reused in the same way again, but it's certainly a system that could be tinkered with and tailored to the rest of our survival campaign.
It's a system that could involve Colback playing from the left, but tucking inside to form a midfield three with preferably, Ki and Bridcutt. Johnson would take the Giaccherini role, but from the right, floating between the lines, with Scocco and Borini given the forward roles. As with any formation, the layout and who plays where is all fairly arbitrary. Whether you call it 4-3-3, 4-5-1 or any other combination you wish to think of, pales into insignificance when the game kicks off. This isn't Football Manager, its real life and it doesn't matter where you position the counters on the board before the game, it's how the players move once they're out on the pitch that makes the difference.
In the system outlined above, Scocco and Borini would have to work hard to move in tandem with Johnson to cause problems for defences. Scocco is yet to get up to speed and looks unfit. Perhaps his signing will prove to be a good one, but the timing of it, coming as it did in January with us in a relegation battle, looks increasingly poor. We needed players who could make an instant impact and he just hasn't looked capable of doing that yet.
That's not to say there haven't been moments of promise. He can be forgiven looking off the pace, given his fitness situation and the fact he's moved to an entirely different continent after not playing regularly. Being dropped into a relegation battle can't be easy either. Against Southampton, there were signs of the quality he showed during a prolific spell at Newell's Old Boys. He seemed to benefit from playing alongside Borini and perhaps the drop off in his performance level against Hull was at least in part due to the players he was operating alongside in that game.
The insipid, lifeless Sunderland that showed up at Hull was typified by a front three who played like they'd never met, with the main problem being a disinterested looking Steven Fletcher. He has run out of excuses now and his injury - yet another one, will he ever be fully fit? - means Poyet has a chance to try something new. That model for the future should be the one he employed against Southampton, rather than simply replacing Fletcher with Altidore in as close to a like for like move as is available to him.
In the Southampton game our players were disinclined to pump long balls forward, with the lack of a physical presence in attack, leading to a better, more confident passing game. The complete opposite was true against Palace, with Sunderland playing into their hands by going direct once Altidore entered the fray. The big American battled manfully and had a decent shot well saved by Speroni, but ultimately his efforts simply do not assist the team. I'm not saying that's entirely his fault either. He's just not the right striker to play in the system Poyet wants his team to play. Like too many of our midfield players, he often appears to be a reactive player, with his movement coming after a ball as played rather than in anticipation of it.
This has been part of a consistent problem we've had this season, with our "number nines" being far too static. Why not just get rid of the notion of the role in its traditional sense altogether then? Operate with two forwards, but who can both drop deep and work in tandem. It works for Liverpool.
Just because you have two strikers, doesn't mean its 4-4-2 either. If we started a game with Colback on the left and Johnson on the right, it wouldn't be 4-4-2, it would be flexible. Colback's presence could allow Alonso to get forward more freely, while Johnson would be able to press high up the pitch with the defensively solid Bardsley behind him. Bridcutt could continue as the holding player, with Ki free to pick the ball up in more offensive areas. Colback could even tuck in to make a three, with Borini or Scocco dropping wide as and when necessary. Poyet has already shown this is possible with an experimental side in the FA Cup, so with his first choice players, surely it has an even better chance of working.
The only alternative to our striking woes would be to introduce Giaccherini as a left sided forward and move Borini into the central role, maintaining the same system and set up that has been used in the majority of Poyet's games in charge.
That idea isn't a terrible one, but Giaccherini has shown an infuriating tendency to misuse the ball and make bad decisions. Also, unlike Borini, he doesn't defend as well from that left side. Perhaps Colback would make himself the key man in this situation too, playing as a left sided central midfielder tasked with covering the wide areas, rather than starting there and then tucking in to cover.
Regardless of which system is employed, the one selected simply must make use of our effective striker in a central role. Altidore and Fletcher may be more orthodox lone forwards but neither of them is scoring and their presence hampers the fluidity of the team. In essence, Borini is everything they are not. It's a massive game at Norwich next week and one we should be looking to win, given our woes at home. Something new might just give us the impetus to do so.