Damian: Billy Jones!
When it comes to choice Sunderland have never been spoiled. Our fullback situation is just that: a constant situation, an unending worry for anyone that loves the red and white. The left back slot is traditionally more of a problem for us but the truth is that since we moved on Phil Bardsley we haven't been able to replace the man. Indeed, before he was pushed out the door I would have been hard pressed to find a reason NOT to replace him. The idea of improvement is to bring in someone younger and better at the job, but those currently in charge of Sunderland's recruitment have never quite grasped that concept.
In a football sense, asking me to choose between Adam Matthews and Billy Jones is a little like rolling in to Hospital and choosing between a Cystoscopy or a Colonoscopy. We all know I don't want that camera anywhere near my unmentionables but you're forcing me to make this choice here, so I'll take it up the arse please, doctor, like a big boy.
I'll just get right to the point here. Billy Jones can't cross, he can't pass and he disappears for the duration of games. I've sat watching matches where we've been told he's playing, but you can't be sure because he's wearing some kind of anti-football harness under his top, one that repels any football or use of the football that comes near him.
Truth is that had he not scored against the mags we would have an even lower opinion of the right back than we do now. But everything was sunshine back in those halcyon days.
However. When pickings are this slim, you have to take any positives you can find, and convince yourself that it's enough to bypass the overwhelming negatives.
The one thing I can say for Billy Jones is that his efforts to defend aren't quite as poor as his inability to do the fullback job might indicate. He serves well as a physical object; something the ball and players can bounce off in the opposite direction. In aerial contests, he can hold his own and at least do enough to distract or deter most of those he competes with. There's also a doggedness about him of the sort you need to see in a defender; his discipline leaves a lot to be desired but his focus on the immediate task at hand is absolute. He's not afraid of getting hurt, and that's something that should be valued highly here, not least because we’re in an age of Europeans theatrically hurling themselves around the pitch like they've been swept away by a tempest. Particularly with the physicality in this league, I would rather have a player that isn't made of glass.
It's so important in this case to remember what I stated above: we're terrible at filling the fullback slots. Jones doesn't have some wonderfully gifted player to compete against or compare himself to – it's Adam Matthews. When you look at him like that, he's not so bad at all.
I’ll take my lollipop now please, doctor.
Gav: Adam Matthews!
Whilst Adam Matthews’ Sunderland career to this point has been completely underwhelming, it would be unfair to judge him fully when, in truth, he’s not actually played because other manager’s have simply preferred other players in his position - namely Billy Jones and DeAndre Yedlin - to him.
Of course, you’d expect that if Matthews was good enough he’d have been playing ahead of those players - hardly glittering names themselves - but a drop in to the Championship under yet another manager has presented him with a chance to start afresh at Sunderland, and I have to say that in the brief forays we’ve seen from the Welshman so far he’s done fairly well.
I watched most of our games in pre-season and felt that of the three right backs we have, Matthews looked the strongest in that position. Alas, Billy Jones was preferred for the season opener and Matthews had to take up a spot on the bench. But when given his chance against Nottingham Forest last week I thought that he was one of our strongest players, showing characteristics we’ve yet to see from Jones - Matthews isn’t afraid to get forward and link up with the winger, something which will prove to be incredibly useful as the season goes on.
I say we continue on with him on the right hand side - we’ll only, surely, see his relationship with new-boy Callum McManaman flourish as a result.
I don’t expect miracles of Matthews but this is a player that won trophies playing for Celtic and even played Champions League football. It would be reasonable to expect that he’s capable of performing admirably at this level, he just needs a chance.
And it’s giving him a chance that is key here - whilst, as I alluded to earlier, other managers have not utilised him because they have preferred other players, it has meant that Matthews has never actually had the opportunity with a run of games to show us if he’s any good or not. Now is that time. With little in the way of competition, and a manager behind him that has shown he’s more than happy to give some of the players that he has adopted second chances, there’s nobody other than Matthews himself capable of stopping him from making the right back berth his own.
Who do you agree with - Damo or Gav? Vote in the poll below!
Who should be our first choice right back - Billy Jones or Adam Matthews?
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