Given some of the dross we have been served up this season, many fans have attempted to lead the inquest into the underlying failures of the current players and management. Some suggest it is a lack of pace within the squad, others safety- first tactics from the previous gaffer. Although these claims are more than justified, there is a glaring limitation within this and previous squads which continues to stunt any sort of attacking identity we strive to implement.
I find it completely baffling how our recent managers have failed to address the long-term creative issue within the middle of the park, and provide much needed balance to our midfield. Di-Canio (despite being a complete head case) described it with utter precision when he suggested he needed someone with ‘the keys to unlock the door’. This led to the acquisition of Ki Sung Yeung on a season long loan from Swansea, who’s ability to effortlessly stroke the ball about the pitch made him look like he was from another planet compared to others in our squad.
Despite Ki tainting the fans memory of him on Wearside (and absolutely bottling it during our great escape), I feel he had a profound effect on the general creativity of that side and also the quality of distribution from players around him. Here we finally had a player who’s first thought was generally positive and forward, something which has been null and void within our current side who continue to take the safe and unimaginative options. Is it a coincidence that players like Cattermole and Larsson looked infintley more comfortable in possession, knowing that the third man in that trio was likely to select the right option if he was picked out. Fast forward to this season and players are wasteful in possession and look hurried – possibly a natural human reaction if all your options in the midfield are defensive in nature (Cattermole, Larsson, Bridcutt, Rodwell).
Make no mistake this is an issue dating back long before Ki Sung Yeung’s arrival, and one that continues to hamper our progress. In the last ten years, how many central midfielders have we had that offer genuine threat to the opposition from an attacking standpoint? How many players have been willing to break their necks to get in the opposition box or run beyond the strikers? These are questions that we as fans regularly ask, so how on earth have recent managers not looked at this and previous squads identifying the same issues.
Yes the forwards need to do more, but is it any wonder they all looked petrified in front of goal if they know their likely to get one chance per game at best? Our close season recruitment hasn’t helped – I’m sure Lee Congerton was hoping Jack Rodwell or Jordi Gomez would provide the creative spark needed to carve out chances and goals for our frontmen. I can’t help look at the money we shelled out for Rodwell, comparing this with Swansea’s acquisition of Gylfi Sigurdsson for a similar fee and conclude that we have got our close season priorities all wrong.
Ultimately this is an issue that has presided over Sunderland teams for far too long, and something we’re unlikely to improve upon drastically during the run in. Whoever takes up the managerial reigns during the summer, this issue must be made an absolute priority if we are to regain any sort of identity in our attacking play.
I’m not sure many of us can handle another season of tactics based around long balls up to a 5’5 striker……….
Keep the faith, and bring back Jeff Whitley.