Team Selection - Incomprehensibly negative
Well, just when we thought it surely couldn’t get any worse, it did. Robbie Stockdale and Billy McKinlay picked possibly one of the most underwhelming and baffling team selections I have ever seen.
Sunderland lined up in an uber-defensive 4-4-1-1 formation, with Billy Jones, Lee Cattermole and Paddy McNair replacing Adam Matthews, Callum McManaman and Jonny Williams. If you thought Simon Grayson’s right-back army away to Everton was bad, the caretaker’s named FOUR defensive midfielders in the side.
Stockdale decided to reinstate Billy Jones to the first-team over Matthews, and I can’t understand why. I’d invite anyone to comment as to what Jones actually brings to the team because, as far as I’m concerned, I’d rather play with ten men than include him.
Ndong and McNair both started out of position, when it is clear to all that their partnership in the middle on Tuesday night was emphatically the most dynamic and effective we’ve seen all season. They were pushed forward in order to accommodate Lee Cattermole and Darron Gibson, who again produced terrible performances, devoid of any basic footballing skills. This is a microcosm of their performance both on Sunday, and this season in general:
They quite obviously attempted to pack the pitch with defensively minded players in order to obtain a clean sheet, aimed to attack on the counter and whole fully rely upon the individual quality of Grabban and Aiden McGeady in front of goal. This was too defensive and would never have worked. Very few sides in the championship can afford to name such a side. With a proper team though, we could have won that game.
Our goalkeepers have received a lot of criticism this season; however, Ruiter was excellent on Sunday. From commanding his box well to pulling off numerous top quality saves, it was the first time since Jordan Pickford was sold in the summer that I’ve felt at ease with our man between the sticks.
Verdict: Even more negative than Grayson, and equally uninspiring. Recalled players that didn't deserve it and the set-up killed us off as soon as Boro got their inevitable early goal.
Tactics - Worse than Grayson
We were defensively all over the place. Overloading the pitch with supposedly more defensive players does not equate defensive success. On the surface it was a seemingly improved defensive performance, conceding just the one goal. However, this wasn’t due to increased organisation in the team nor the negative tactics, but Robbin Ruiter’s impressive performance, and Boro’s own incompetence - especially in front of goal.
Our slow, ageing and static four in the middle - O’Shea, Wilson, Cattermole and Gibson - were repeatedly ripped open by Britt Assombalonga and the slightly more withdrawn Martin Braithwaite’s impressive movement, power and pace.
At the other end of the pitch, we were just as poor. The pair of caretaker managers at least realised Grabban is not a target man, but instead opted to push McNair up high and then proceeded to hoof balls towards him. The system relied upon the individual quality of Grabban and McGeady to steal a goal, and aside from one very early chance for the former well-saved by Darren Randolph, both generally unimpressed.
There was a clear game plan, merely awfully implemented and once again totally unsuited to our side. Only when Jonny WIlliams finally came on and began to dictate play in the middle of the park did we get a shot on target after the first minute. For 76 consecutive minutes of football in a “derby”, our placid and lazy side could not even muster a single shot on goal.
Verdict: Too negative, poor game plan. At least these two are definitely not going to get the job full-time.
Substitutions - Ineffective
The early introduction of Matthews was forced upon the caretaker mangers after Billy Jones picked up an injury thanks to getting tackled by Darron Gibson - it was probably the most effective moment of the match for the Irishman.
George Honeyman replaced Ndong after an hour, which was also enforced due to a knee injury picked up by the Gabonese midfielder. This was particularly unlucky, with him arguably being our best outfield player. Chris Camm analysed his role in the team perfectly in our Match Report & Player Ratings after the game yesterday, stating:
(SUB) George Honeyman, 5/10: One of the players who looked interested but his lack of quality cancelled any positives.
Chris hit the nail on the head here - Honeyman evidently tries very hard but simply just did not have the ability. Sometimes he does - as shown by his wonderful chip goal at Bury - but moments like this are too few and far between.
Jonny Williams is arguably the only player in our whole squad who constantly asks for the ball, dictates play in the attacking third and move in the spaces between the opposition midfield and defence. It was plain to see McNair was struggling in the more advanced role, and bringing the diminutive Welshman on for one of either Gibson or Cattermole, dropping McNair back was necessary much earlier than the wrong change did eventually take place.
Verdict: The one substitution in their hands was all too late, although the damage was done as soon as Stockdale and McKinlay chose their team.
Post-Match Comments - Does it really matter?
I thought there wasn't really much in it to be honest.
We set-up in a certain way and tried to counter attack them and at times we looked quite a threat.
There was a moment in the first six minutes which has decided the game.
We have had the tag 'unlucky losers' too many times so maybe we aren't unlucky and maybe we need to do things a little bit better.
We are going into the international break now so hopefully we can get some key players back. We have picked up some more injuries today which isn't helpful.
Paddy played longer than what we wanted him to play.
There is a lot of time to digest this result and I am sure we will do that.
Robbin (Ruiter) made a couple of good saves and in the second-half he made a double save. That has got to be the first port of call to stop goals going in our net. The big moments sooner rather than later have to change in our favour.
Look, Stockdale - who quite clearly is the caretaker despite both being in a “joint” role officially - with any luck won’t be here by the end of the international break. He shouldn’t have been whatsoever.
As every Sunderland fan knows, Kevin Ball should have been installed as caretaker at the very least. Both to inspire the players and bring a bit of confidence back among the fans, who would support him irrevocably.
Verdict: Inconsequential, hopefully.