Now, I am aware that if Simon Grayson were to drop all of the players who are under-performing then we’d be left with only a handful of players available.
But if I were King (or Sunderland AFC manager), the idea of dropping the veteran players after a poor performance and handing their first team spot to one of our younger players would have held no fear for me - Asoro or Gooch for Vaughan, Beadling for Kone, Tommy Robson for Jones, just to name a few examples.
Injuries have limited Grayson’s options and you can’t blame him for putting his faith in the experienced pros who should have more than enough quality at this level to say, I don’t know, hold a two-goal lead against Brentford perhaps?
I’m not going to hold Grayson responsible for the individual errors, lack of individual quality or the apparent absence of desire displayed by many of our players in the last few weeks. However: he can be held responsible for the fact that, despite utterly gutless recent performances, those individuals continue to start for Sunderland (and Billy Jones playing at centre back ahead of Tom Beadling is a crime, something you can read more about here).
One player I’m referring to here specifically is Lee Cattermole, who irrespective of form appears to be one of the first names on the team-sheet every week.
Recently Cattermole has been a hazard on the pitch, and his lack of pace often leaves us exposed. Why does Grayson insist on playing Ndong alongside him in exactly the same role? Both midfielders have been suffering from the same issues, but only one of them has the to tools to fix it. The asset that keeps Ndong in the side, in my opinion, is his athleticism. He works harder than Cattermole defensively simply because he is physically able to.
So if Grayson is to drop Cattermole, then who does he replace him with? Well, that’s a tough one.
Two of our current options are Darron Gibson or Jack Rodwell.
Trouble is that Gibson has the same issues as Cattermole with regards to his ability to get around the pitch. Sure, his passing is supposedly good but we haven’t seen him demonstrate that skill consistently in a red and white shirt, and most of the midfielders in this division would likely overrun him in the same manner that they do with Cattermole. The other option is Jack Rodwell. Which is, well, no. Just no.
With very few other reasonable suggestions, that leaves us with the returning Paddy McNair, who now must surely be close to a return to first-team football.
Very few would have thought when McNair was ruled out before the season started that we’d be quite as excited for his return as we are now. But so bad is the position we find ourselves in - second-from-bottom no less - his return from can’t come soon enough.
McNair burst onto the scene at Manchester United as a centre-back with far more ado than his time spent so far on Wearside, but the more we have seen from him, the more he has shown an eagerness to push forward and be a positive force on the pitch. If he can show discipline in supporting Ndong defensively while helping to set the tempo of the team moving forward, we could have found a real solution to our midfield problem.
That said; the club will not rush McNair’s recovery, and rightly so. He played 60 minutes for the under-23s against Everton on Friday but he didn’t look ready for first-team action, so more patience may well be required before he can make a successful return.
Until then we must put our faith in the squad we have available. Hopefully Simon Grayson can make changes to the system that allow Cattermole and Ndong to play more effectively together, and start to make decisions that fans can really get behind.
With two home games coming up, the players will need all the support they can get.
What do you think - do you see McNair as the eventual replacement for Cattermole, or do you feel we should give the Sunderland stalwart more time to turn his form around? Comment below - we’d love to hear from you.