Sunderland have became a shell of the outfit that they once were. Season upon season of confidence-sapping performances, a pitiful win ratio that dates back to 2013, and a chronic lack of goals has taken its toll on the club. Ultimately, this has translated into a meek final season in the Premier League, as we leave the top division with barely a whimper.
I want to hear the black cats roar again. I want us to be braver next season, bolder on the ball and ferocious off it. I want to see a different Sunderland as we bid for promotion from the second tier at the first time of asking. We need a fresh start and I hope the Championship can be the catalyst for this.
There are four key areas where I think we could be braver as a club, starting this summer, and I hope to see dramatic improvement in all of them if we are to stand any chance of winning promotion next year.
On the ball
There are many things that frustrate me when I go to watch Sunderland, but perhaps at the top of the list of things that annoy me is our inability to look after the ball when in possession.
There is nothing wrong with playing a more direct style – Sam Allardyce has proven that throughout his managerial career – but being direct should not mean aimless, long-ball football. This is what we’ve been doing throughout this season.
And despite David Moyes claiming at the start of the season that he wanted his side to play a possession-based style of football, Sunderland average the worst ball retention stats in the entire Premier League - a measly 42.4% per match.
We are expecting a serious overhaul of our playing staff this summer but, in my opinion, our style of football needs to change just as much. We cannot play this way in the Championship and expect to do well.
Off the ball
The flip side to this is our work off the ball, which also indicates a lack of bravery to me. Our defensive line is painfully deep and we often spend games camped on the edge of our own box, unable to push higher up the pitch and relieve the pressure on our defence. I can understand this to an extent – the pace of Premier League football and the danger of leaving space in behind for fast forwards will weigh heavily on the mind of our players and coaching staff.
And the statistics this season show just how deep we actually defend - we are second only to Burnley in the number of clearances made and first in terms of number of saves made.
Starting next season in the Championship should be the catalyst for a fresh start. It is easier to dominate matches if you can compress the pitch when out of possession and press higher. This maxim underpins David Wagner’s tactics at Huddersfield and is the reason he has over-achieved in the Championship, despite working with a below average group of players. If we can add pace and energy to our midfield alongside Didier Ndong, there's no reason why we can't be a more imposing outfit when playing in games that we are expected to dominate.
We absolutely cannot play with a lone striker next season. Part of the problem of our defensive line dropping deeper is that Jermain Defoe has been isolated up-front and our wide players have been unable to offer him any support.
Wahbi Khazri could have played in more advanced midfield role this season but he clearly isn't admired by the Sunderland manager - at least against Hull we started George Honeyman in a more advanced position behind Jermain Defoe, and it worked well. In my opinion, we’ve needed a number ten for years. We have never been a good possession side and we desperately need someone to link our midfield to our attack to allow for quick transitions. The problem with playing three defensive minded central midfielders is a lack of creativity from the centre of the pitch and a tendency to move the ball too slowly and from side-to-side without hurting the opposition.
Whether you think he should leave or stay is immaterial as David Moyes is going nowhere, so with this in mind it's imperative that the Sunderland manager has a complete turnaround in approach and tactical mindset as we head into a league where there is a far greater expectation on us to win games.
He needs to regain the steely edge he had at Everton all those years ago. He needs to be more willing to change the team when things aren’t working too. Anyone with eyes could have seen we were struggling with Borini and Januzaj in the team earlier this year; they both offered less than nothing and yet Moyes was unwilling to throw players like Khazri and Honeyman into the mix in order to change our approach and increase competition.
He cannot be so reluctant to change in the Championship and he must be more assertive.
We need a strong pre-season and Moyes needs to build up the team's confidence ahead of a grueling 46-game campaign. If we can start next season strongly, we will see a braver, more confident Sunderland. Fingers crossed!