The Penny Dropped
The performance that Sunderland’s players gave in the opening forty-five minutes of today’s game was nothing short of disgraceful, particularly with regards to our defending.
Just watch the first half for yourself - our three-man back line in particular neglected responsibility, and for each of the goals that we conceded you can probably pick one million different holes in them from a defensive standpoint.
I have no doubt that at half time Chris Coleman will have absolutely bollocked the team for their horrendous work-rate and attitude once they got back in the dressing room, and harsh words will have been said in order to re-focus and re-organise our flailing players.
Interestingly, the same side emerged back on the pitch after the break, and the improvement in tempo and application was evident almost immediately.
We had to carry a bit of luck, of course. Had Famara Diédhiou just headed the ball or got any other part of his body on the cross they would have been 4-0 up, and it would have been game over. Were it not for a good block from Billy Jones, Ryan Kent would have got one too and, of course, two of our three goals were actually scored by Bristol City players.
But it was our desire to get back in the game that brought about that good fortune, and we have to at least give the players credit for that.
Hopefully now the penny has dropped. We will be relegated if we play in the manner that we did in the opening stages of the game, and that cannot continue any longer.
The Penny Dropped Pt. II
Judging by his comments after the game it would appear that Chris Coleman is finally about to give up on his five-at-the-back system, and it’s probably for the best.
We look wide open trying to play with two in the middle, and our three central defenders aren’t good or quick enough to cover the ground required when our full backs maraud forward.
I don’t blame Coleman for trying to persist with it by the way, and I actually wish that 5-3-2 would work for us because when you have the right players it’s a system that can be devastating, but it has been clear for weeks now that we’re not properly equipped for it.
Yet again the game changed once we had Aiden McGeady and Kazenga LuaLua on the pitch, and you have to hope that these players now come into contention for a starting place in the side when we face Brentford next weekend.
McGeady has many flaws in his game but he scores and creates goals and that cannot be ignored any longer, particularly since we’ve struggled in that regard for a number of weeks now. His goal - our second - was from a well-worked free kick routine, and he played a significant part in the third too. He has to be playing more often, I think.
Kazenga LuaLua, when fit, also has to start games. He was the first Sunderland player of the afternoon to just take it upon himself to have a pop from range and the deflection from his well-struck effort fell to the feet of Ashley Fletcher, who missed the sitter of the afternoon when he couldn’t convert his chance from close range.
Like McGeady there are elements of Kazenga’s game that won’t necessarily endear him to Coleman but he’s got that little bit of something about him that brings out the best in our attacking players.
Coleman: We looked better with a back four today. Five at the back has worked for us, it has got us clean sheets, but we looked better after changing formation today. #safc— James Hunter (@JHunterChron) February 10, 2018
I couldn’t possibly end this piece without reserving some praise for Joel Asoro, who was magnificent today and was one of very few players that did well throughout the game.
To his credit he proved beyond any doubt exactly why he’s featuring heavily in the team at present - he’s keeping some very experienced players out of the side, and the competition for his place is clearly bringing out the best in him.
Even when we were three down he was trying his best to commit defenders and do something, and I think that it is that what impresses Chris Coleman the most.
He’s not scared to take on his man and force an opening, which is exactly what he did when we scored the equaliser right at the end.
Fair play to the lad. I hope he continues to prove people wrong!