Sunderland are a team of losers
For what feels like the millionth time in recent years, Sunderland collapsed and caved in under pressure at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
The second Chris Coleman’s men faced adversity their brittle self-confidence evaporated, allowing a mediocre Ipswich Town team to coast to victory.
This ingrained losing culture has been present for the majority of Ellis Short’s tenure as owner, and it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment the Black Cats got comfortable accepting defeat. That said, it doesn’t make the last hour against the Tractor Boys acceptable or any easier to take as a fan.
Most worryingly, Sunderland have only picked up one point from a losing position under Coleman, our supposed charismatic leader who hasn’t inspired greater resilience or self-belief on Wearside quite yet. Even that one gained point was at home to Birmingham City in a game the lads looked like losing before City’s main man Sam Gallagher was controversially sent off.
There’s no easy solution to correcting the mentality of a football team for which losing has become habitual and the norm for the past half-decade, but it remains the biggest hurdle to Sunderland ever becoming successful or even competent as a football club in the future.
January signings: two good, two bad
It’s too early to draw conclusions on Sunderland’s new men just yet, but for half an hour it looked as if Sunderland’s new players had re-energised our struggling squad. Ashley Fletcher and Ovie Ejaria were inspirational in the early stages, adding quality and composure that Sunderland have lacked in the final third since Lewis Grabban returned back to Bournemouth.
Fletcher held up the ball well and made good decisions bringing others into play, combining effectively with Joel Asoro and Ejaria in particular.
Ejaria was even more impressive, driving forward with the ball from midfield showing great spatial awareness and composure. The Liverpool loannee appears to be a much more natural playmaker than others Coleman has tried in an advanced midfield role.
Lee Camp was a disaster - the former Nottingham Forest man was once considered one of the best at this level, but looked a shell of himself on Saturday. He was slow down to Joe Garner’s weak daisy cutter for the opener and sold himself badly for Ipswich’s second. It suddenly becomes much clearer as to why Camp hasn’t played all year and was our second choice signing behind another sub-standard stopper in Andrew Lonergan.
This was my first glimpse of Kazenga LuaLua in a Sunderland shirt and one hopes it was just an off day from someone too eager to impress on their home debut. Outside of his technically brilliant half volley, he was awful, making poor decisions and giving the ball away at will, while never really threatening or committing the Ipswich backline.
Sunderland’s good start shouldn’t be completely forgotten
Things are bleak at the Stadium of Light. Relegation looks likely and in the context of Sunderland’s season-long struggle, losing to an overachieving Ipswich team is just the latest in a string of devastating losses.
However, in a vacuum there are positives to be taken from yesterday’s showing. Fletcher and Ejaria impressed on their debuts, while Sunderland created their highest number of decent chances in one game since beating Fulham.
It’s quite easy to envision a scenario where had Jake Clarke-Salter been fit and playing instead of Billy Jones, that Sunderland don’t concede such a pathetically weak opener and win the game. In future fixtures Asoro may learn from his early miss and trust his weaker foot rather than lashing wide on his right from a tighter angle.
Sunderland versus Ipswich was not a one-sided drubbing - it was a game Sunderland could easily have won and they created the chances to do so. There are positives Coleman can work with from here, and the key is getting the players to truly believe in what he’s doing.
No easy answer to Coleman’s formation dilemma
Calls are growing in the Sunderland Twittersphere for a return to a back four in an attempt to shoehorn an extra attacking player into a line-up that has struggled for goals since Coleman’s arrival.
I’m not sure this is the answer. Sunderland’s numerous clean sheets under new management is as much a result of poor opposition finishing as it has been the former Wales manager’s changes to defensive structure. The Black Cats are slightly harder to beat when using three centre backs.
As mentioned earlier, Sunderland’s inability to score past Mick McCarthy’s well drilled defence was the result of poor finishing rather than the limitations of Coleman’s favourite formation. Switching from a back three risks further destabilising a shaky defence to solve a problem that mightn’t exist.
On the other hand Sunderland have one of the most dangerous match-winners in the Championship and the 2013 FA Cup final man of the match, both marginalised due to their unsuitability to fitting our current system.
Aiden McGeady especially has the ability to single-handedly win games at this level. His set-pieces are sorely missed when he doesn’t play, especially when Bryan Oviedo performs as horribly from dead ball situations as he did in the second half.
Chris Coleman has not been afraid to make big decisions in his short time on Wearside - deciding on our best formation going forward may be his biggest one yet.