clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Captain's Blog: Strikers Not To Blame For Sunderland Struggles

New, comments

Sunderland's strikers are not the root of the club's attacking difficulties. If only it was so simple.

Chris Brunskill

Who would want to be a striker? Well, most of us, I guess. Growing up (I was living in the south during my ‘pretend to be a footballer' phase), I can't remember many Terry Butcher, Alan Hansen or Des Walker devotees on the playground. It was all Gary Lineker, Peter Beardsley or Brian McClair.

Even now, it's generally the attacking players who we most fondly remember. When you're talking about Sunderland, the likes of Gary Bennett and Kevin Ball are appreciated, but it's Marco Gabbiadini and Kevin Phillips who are revered.

There is a flip side to that particular coin, though, and it's not all that pretty. Whilst a striker can become the talisman of a good team whilst the quality of service is overlooked, they can just as easily - or more easily in Sunderland's case - become the scapegoats for a bad side. I can't help but feel that is what is going on right now to a certain extent.

Before I prattle on expanding on what I am saying, please allow me a moment to clarify what I am not saying. Obviously, there is plenty of room for improvement if Sunderland decided to enter the transfer market and buy a new forward. No one here is claiming otherwise.

I've seen and heard a huge amount of comment this season asserting that by failing to sign a striker this summer Sunderland have somehow been guilty of criminal-level neglect. I don't buy it for one second.

Forget Fabio Borini for a moment. The Italian was being courted as a winger, not a striker. That was something that Gus Poyet referenced just about non-stop during the summer. Another important yet unpopular reality was that Sunderland simply couldn't afford a second big-money signing this summer. It was never a case of buying Borini and Jack Rodwell, it was one or the other.

But let's just suspend that reality for a moment. Let's imagine that Sunderland did sign an expensive striker this summer. Would a £15m player waiting for a final pass that never arrives really have made a difference to the season so far?

To believe that Sunderland's attacking problems could be solved with a wave of Ellis Short's chequebook is, in my opinion, fanciful to say the least. It's an overly simplistic stock solution to a complex problem. It's almost on overly optimistic one too, allowing us to easily identify a vessel encompassing all our woes and conning ourselves into thinking if we get rid of that then they all go with him.

If Steven Fletcher, Connor Wickham and Jozy Altidore were missing a succession of chances in games that you'd really expect players at this level to put away, then I think you have a personnel problem in the squad. As it is, it's really more tactical; it's what is going on behind them.

I'm not one for knee-jerk analysis, but after six games against Premier League opposition now this season, there is a clear pattern emerging. Sunderland are a team plagued with indecision to a crippling extent. They are struggling to find any semblance of rhythm at all. It's a disjointed mishmash of passing it when they should play it and playing it when they should be passing it. It's a mess.

I'm a fan of the type of football that Gus Poyet is trying to produce Sunderland. The fact he achieved it towards the end of last season also suggests it's worth persevering with now.

The whole point of it, though, is to slow the tempo of the game down to such a degree that when you inject either pace, precision, or both, into the final third, its effect is felt to the fullest by a defence who have been passed into a standstill. The theory is sound.

In practice, too, Sunderland do have the players to achieve it. There is no devastating pace to carry the ball the length of the pitch, but players such as Will Buckley, Patrick van Aanholt and Connor Wickham are quick enough over the first ten yards to make life uncomfortable for defenders. Meanwhile, with Emanuele Giaccherini, Jack Rodwell, Adam Johnson and Ricky Alvarez, there is also a good degree of precision to be called upon too.

There elements are there, but it's the application of them which are not. When a player has the chance to make an incisive final pass, they check, stop, and pass it backwards instead. When a player has a chance to attack a defender, he checks, stops, and passes it backwards instead.

It's going on all over the pitch, and with every single check back and every backwards pass, you are giving the opposition a chance to get organised and diminishing your own chances of crafting something. It's obsessively self-defeating - three words that may just sum Sunderland up as a club, actually.

Could Lee Congerton and Poyet improve upon the quality of forwards they have in the squad? Yes, of course. What's more, I am sure that it is something they will be looking at sooner rather than later.

However, until Poyet can establish some rhythm into his side and, more importantly, make that rhythm second nature to his players as it appeared to be at the back-end of last season, new strikers wouldn't make any real difference.

This is one problem that the transfer market can't solve. It has to be done on the training ground, and it needs to be done quickly.