It should come as no surprise to the Sunderland faithful that we’ve failed to establish an identifiable style of play so far in the Championship - after all, we haven’t had one of those for at least five seasons now.
But with Simon Grayson’s side arguably at full strength - save for the absence of Lewis Grabban - it’s looking to be the case that, if there ever was a time for the gaffer to establish a tactical identity, it’d be this weekend.
Grayson’s tried a handful of different lineups and formations now, most of which have seldom reaped rewards with others being outright disasters.
Our most recent outing away at Preston a fortnight ago was promising, if unspectacular, so should Grayson try to build on that performance by letting the players who played in that lineup gel with another game? Or should he take into account the other options he has at his disposal?
The return of Duncan Watmore to full fitness is probably the main reason why this decision making is particularly interesting. Starting the roadrunner would give us pace straight from the get-go, which may prove to be vital in our attempts to nab the opening goal. Alternatively, the young lad would be as good an impact sub as you’ll get in this division - I’ve spoke at length before about how the pace and quality of Watmore could terrorize a knackered Championship full back.
Irish centurion John O’Shea is another player we shouldn’t rule out for a place in the starting eleven. The former Man United man gave an assured display against Preston and Tyias Browning looked a lot more composed alongside him.
Lamine Kone looks less arsed with each passing game and he clearly lacks the common sense to play for a move away, so JOS might be the better option of the two.
The only issue, of course, with playing the Irishman consistently also happens to be the elephant in the room - namely, the fact that John O’Shea is thirty-six years old.
Whilst he should be fine to play this weekend given a week’s rest, we simply can’t expect him to continue to play regularly at this level. A footballer of his age is incapable of playing to his fullest potential if he has to play three times a week.
By all means play him against QPR, his age won’t pose a risk on this particular occasion. But whether or not he becomes part of a core unit in the future will require some deliberation from the manager.
Let’s not forget about Callum McManaman either. By this divisions standards, it seems a waste not to throw such a technically gifted player back into the fray - but, if so, who would it be at the expense of?
There’s the case of the ‘keepers too. The jury’s still out on Jason Steele and as far as I’m aware Robbin Ruiter is the better option - contrary to what Grayson clearly thinks. But can we really interchange them again? Having two keepers on constant rotation isn’t exactly the biggest testament to stability, is it?
If Grayson does fancy making some changes, they need not be anything more severe than adjustments - as opposed to the full squad augmentations he’s tried in the past. As I mentioned, there was enough promise in the Preston game to suggest that the team we’ve got now is definitely capable of amounting to something this season, so to go back to the drawing board is to demolish the foundations we could potentially build on.
I’m not just conjecturing here either. Grayson has completely reshuffled the cards already this season, only to deal himself a hand worse than the one he returned to the deck.
This was apparent in the home loss of Sheffield United which we endured five weeks ago now. The gaffer completely changed our formation and introduced so many different fundamentals that we hadn’t used at all prior. The result? A team of individuals who looked lost at sea from the second the whistle was blown, fatalistically leading to a gradual decimation at the hands of Clayton bloody Donaldson.
If it seems like we’ve got a system that could work, our course of action should be no more drastic than giving it a tweak with the new options we now have.
It seems as though we could stand to benefit from either keeping the same team or swapping a couple of players out - but I think I speak for all Sunderland fans when I say that I think we’ve seen enough ‘squad overhauls’ to last us a decade or two.