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Talking Points: Sunderland missing Honeyman in the middle - let’s hope his injury isn’t too bad

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Sunderland’s chronic lack of physicality and movement was what made them struggle to break down and dominate Shrewsbury yesterday - and George Honeyman’s absence was felt once again.

Sunderland AFC via Getty images.

Lack of physicality hurts us again

In the opening forty-five minutes Sunderland were bullied by a far more physical and athletic Shrewsbury side who frustrated Jack Ross’ men for large parts of the game.

That frustration led to the opening goal as a poor tackle provided Shrewsbury with a chance to loft a ball into the Sunderland area where their tall central defender, Luke Waterfall, nodded past McLaughlin easily.

Sunderland’s average height in the starting XI was 5 feet 10 inches whereas Shrewsbury’s was over 6 feet. In general, Sunderland were out-muscled by their opponents in the middle of the park and this led to our players resorting to long diagonal balls against an opposition with an advantage in height, to a striker who isn’t a target man.

In general, Shrewsbury were taller and stronger than Sunderland, and they used this to their advantage. Sunderland should have been able to counteract Shrewsbury’s gameplan, but lacked the adequate nous and personnel to adapt.

Shrewsbury Town v Lincoln City - Checkatrade Trophy Final
6’2” Waterfall played well today.
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

George Honeyman a miss

George Honeyman’s absence from the side was painfully apparent yesterday. The captain’s energy, tenacity, and movement really help others around him to thrive, and without him in the team, Sunderland are a poorer side.

Honeyman’s inclusion in the side provides a body in the middle of the park to help Lee Cattermole and Max Power in dominating the midfield, whilst in attack Honeyman links play between the lines. He is always available and keeps play moving at a good pace - this was conspicuously absent today as Sunderland looked lethargic across the park.

In particular, today Sunderland resorted to long diagonal balls that didn’t reap any rewards; however, with George Honeyman on the pitch, our central defenders and deep-lying midfielders often have an outlet in playing the ball into his feet, or into space he has found. From there Honeyman is intelligent with the ball, and often finds a player in space who can provide an assist, or shoot themselves.

Ross has tried playing Chris Maguire, Aiden McGeady, and Lynden Gooch in that position, but none of them have the same impact. If Honeyman is to be out for a while longer with his ankle injury, then Sunderland might well have to change their tactical approach, or look to the transfer window for a player capable of fulfilling the same role.

A big miss.
Image: Getty Images

Maja situation a concern - but Watmore & Wyke impress

This past month Sunderland have played almost eight games (including the Accrington postponement) whereas next month the Lads will only play six times. Injuries have also likely prevented Ross from rotating his squad as much as he wants, so perhaps it’s good timing that the returns of Duncan Watmore and Charlie Wyke provide Jack Ross with food for thought both in terms of personnel and his side’s tactical approach.

Wyke was a handful when he came on and linked up play well - that’s two games in which the former Bradford man has come on and provided a real outlet, so could Ross perhaps be thinking about giving the burly forward a starting role?

News emerged post-match that Josh Maja has been given a week to decide on whether to sign a new deal or not, and should the prolific forward leave this coming window then Wyke could well be our main striker moving forward.

At the same time, Duncan Watmore also looks sharp. Truthfully, he never feels quite as effective out wide due to his seeming lack of quality in terms of delivery, but down the middle of the park his pace could be frightening - especially if played alongside Wyke.

Ultimately, Ross is in a bizarre situation right now. His top scorer could potentially move on in the January window if the club are unable to convince him to sign a new deal, but he does have two good players coming back into the side. Does he give the returning players more game time in case Maja leaves, or does he stick with his prolific young forward with doubt lingering over his long-term future?

Impressive in his two appearances.
Sunderland AFC via Getty Images