The defensive disaster that was the Stoke City game prompted David Moyes to alter his formation and go for a 3-5-2 for Sunderland’s trip to The Hawthorns.
The additional centre half would hopefully mean that Salomon Rondon could be man-marked, with a man spare to pick up any lose balls the Venezuelan striker won.
In the centre of midfield, Jack Rodwell and Sebastian Larsson would be the more defensive of the three, allowing George Honeyman the chance to get forward on his first start. The full backs - Patrick van Aanholt & Billy Jones - would be attempting to provide width, whilst Adnan Januzaj would play closest to Jermain Defoe up front.
Despite winning more aerial duels than West Brom, Sunderland still let an opposition forward win too many. Saloman Rondon won 7 - the same amount as John O’Shea - and it’s a recurring theme that Sunderland don’t seem to be able to deal with big presences in the air. At 0-0 Rondon should have opened the scoring from six yards, had has own player not blocked his effort, a moment where O’Shea was comfortably beaten by the striker. We saw Peter Crouch dominate us last week, Christian Benteke did it earlier in the campaign and whilst the extra centre half may have meant Rondon didn’t win as much in the air as the aforementioned players it still wasn’t good enough.
Nowhere was our heading ineptitude better displayed than in West Brom’s opening goal. The Baggies were allowed to win three headers after the corner had been swung in.
Three! How does that happen?!
The first was won by Chris Brunt, who wasn’t even being picked up on the edge of the area, meaning his run facing the ball was always going to beat Sebastian Larsson, who had to back track. It got worse though as Claudio Yacob got the better of both Billy Jones and Jason Denayer, whilst John O’Shea was absolutely no where near Gareth McAuley. Carrying on the lack of marking or pressing of the ball, Patrick van Aanholt gave Darren Fletcher all the time in the world to bring the ball down and fire into the net.
Truly, truly, awful set piece 'defending' - to be so weak in the air against a Tony Pulis team is always going to put you in danger but to also not even attempt to challenge the opposition? Inexcusable.
It wasn’t just set pieces where Sunderland showed they could be disorganised - they could do it from open play too, as testified in West Brom’s second.
Just what is going on here?
Why have both Jack Rodwell and Papy Djilobodji gone for that ball, taking themselves both out of the game? It leaves John O’Shea up against the pace of Matt Phillips, which is only going to end one way. So then it’s up to Jason Denayer to come across and try and block Phillips' cross. We are playing with three centre halves and currently none of them are picking up the opposition centre forward, or another of their attacking midfielders, who are currently in the centre of the Sunderland box. You really have to applaud such gross incompetence.
Nacer Chadli somehow managed to whack his shot off the bar but that didn’t matter, due to the fact that Billy Jones and Seb Larsson were now Sunderland’s de facto centre backs and it affords Chris Brunt all the space he needs to find the net. 2-0, game over and Sunderland can only blame themselves.
It’s not like Sunderland were ever going to force their way back into the game through their attacking play, either. Jermain Defoe was once again left isolated and got nothing in the way of support from Adnan Januzaj. So little was the supply to Defoe, he only had one shooting opportunity inside the box, half of Sunderland’s chances in the penalty area. If we’re going to be so shocking at the back, it would nice if we could balance that out with some creativity and threat - I know that’s asking for too much though.
David Moyes desperately rolled the dice by introducing the half fit Victor Anichebe, something that back fired almost immediately when the target man landed awkwardly, sustaining what is now being reported as knee ligament damage. Then came Fabio Borini, who you’d be forgiven for forgetting even made an appearance. Both he and Anichebe were comfortably nullified (understandable in Anichebe’s circumstances) by the West Brom defence, only touching the ball a combined 17 times.
Enough wrist slashing negativity, let’s go out on the only positive from The Hawthorns - The enthusiasm fuelled influence of George Honeyman. Probably the only Sunderland player worth the fluorescent shirt, Honeyman gave a typical performance for someone at his stage of development. There were raw aspects to his play but with more touches than any of his team mates, he showed a willingness to get on the ball and make things happen. When in possession, Honeyman was tidy and a pass completion percentage of 85% won’t have gone unnoticed, which is made all the more impressive considering he made the fourth highest amount of passes in the team. Completing three dribbles underlined his creative spark and he put the likes of Januzaj to shame.
The only stat against Honeyman was that he did lose possession on five occasions but you can forgive that, given the role he’d be assigned. Further forgiveness will also be forthcoming when you take into account that he attempt seven tackles which once again, was more than anyone else in pink. Not shirking his defensive duties and doing the dirty work will certainly endear The Beekeeper to the Sunderland faithful and he can be proud of his debut, despite the rest of the teams failings.
If only there was the same desire from some of our more senior players, we might not be in such a mess.