RR Selection: Lee Camp has been brought in on loan from Cardiff City to provide competition, primarily, for Robbin Ruiter. Having seen first-hand the calamities that both inherited keepers are prone to, it’s no wonder Coleman gave Camp his debut against Ipswich. Did he instill a new sense of confidence or is he ‘more of the same’? I suspect his Championship experience will see him afforded a few more opportunities for us to assess. Likely, it’s now his shirt to lose.
Options: Dutch stopper Robbin Ruiter may feel aggrieved at losing his no.1 spot after producing a number of clean sheets since Coleman arrived at Sunderland, but in all reality he hasn’t eradicated the mistakes which have plagued him since the start of the season and doesn’t exactly give the defenders in front of him a great deal of confidence. He often looks bereft of all self-belief, especially after the first goal goes in. Invariably this results in us conceding another, then another; something that will undoubtedly hamper our goal difference should that matter come the end of the season.
Having seen his loan move to Derby County - and perhaps a fast-track to Premier League football - fall through, Jason Steele remains at the Stadium of Light. Clearly, he does not fit with Coleman’s view of what he needs from his first-choice goalkeeper and the former Blackburn stopper will surely be looking for a permanent move away in the summer.
Max Stryjek was recalled from his loan at Accrington Stanley as the club allowed Mika to leave. Max may have been unlucky, picking up an injury on his debut for the League Two side, but he never made the impression many hoped that he would there. Having played for the U23s since his return, Stryjek would definitely have benefited from a further loan move to a Football League side before the transfer window closed.
Who would be your first choice keeper going forward?
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RR Selection: There isn’t much in way of left-sided full back options at Sunderland, and, regardless of the system Coleman deploys, Bryan Oviedo is undoubtedly the first choice in that position. Thankfully, the Costa Rican can adapt to being either a conventional full-back in a back four, or operating as a wing-back when three central defenders are deployed.
On paper, we have more options for right-back. We’ve gone for Adam Matthews, purely as he provides the best solution in Coleman’s preferred system. Matthews gets forward well and supports the attack from wide, whilst being a competent defender on the whole.
Options: Brendan Galloway remains on Sunderland’s books as a defensive option. Brought in under the pretense that he’s able to operate in a number of different positions, Galloway has primarily played left back when he’s featured earlier in the season. However with seven loan signings within our ranks and only five allowed to be involved in any match-day squad, Galloway’s chances of playing again look slim.
Experienced former West Brom man Billy Jones has gradually become our ‘go-to’ reserve, able to step into the right-back role or operate on the right side of a three-man defence. The problem is he just isn’t very good. Out of contract this summer, these are likely to be his last few months in a Sunderland shirt.
Donald Love, intriguingly, was involved in the team that achieved a number of clean sheets when Coleman first arrived, but he isn’t really giving Matthews any competition for the right-back spot.
Bryan Oviedo - when fit - on our left is a given, but who would be your first choice right back?
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RR Selection: Ty Browning has been a steady loan signing, by and large. It’s taking him time to adjust to Coleman’s system and some games are clearly better than others, but he is young, capable and willing to learn. I don’t profess to know what his intentions are beyond the summer, but he’ll be 24 in May and will have spent two years out on loan. Maybe the Everton dream is over, so could Coleman convince him to stay? For now, though, his inclusion in our side pretty much a shoe-in.
In the middle of the back three John O’Shea has, once more, proved to be the best option as a leader with experience and wisdom that he imparts on a regular basis, both on the training ground and during games. The issue, clearly, is his age and the fact his legs went a few years ago. His reading of the game, however, remains alert but it’s probably a criticism of the other options in that position that he remains first choice at Sunderland.
Chelsea loanee Jake Clarke-Salter was Coleman’s first signing and one he was determined to get. A player in the mould of John Terry or even perhaps John O’Shea, he is vocal and organised. Still young with much to learn, consistency is going to be the key for both his development and our survival. Within the preferred system, JCS is the obvious choice, but he does take a third loan spot, leaving us but two others in the match-day squad.
Options: Should Coleman switch to a back four, things may change. His hand may be forced through injury to key players, or by constraints when utilising loanees.
We saw against Birmingham that Lamine Kone, whilst available, cannot feasibly be expected to replace O’Shea for leadership or organisation, which leaves the two young lads either side of him exposed.
Kone’s best performances for Sunderland came within a back four formation alongside a strong leader - who spoke the same language - when he lined up with Younes Kaboul. Once Kaboul left, Kone began to struggle. He seems more comfortable with defenders either side of him, but being part of a back three - where he has responsibility to run the channels - isn’t playing to his strengths.
Marc Wilson perhaps offers a better alternative within Coleman’s choice of system. He’s more adept at the left side of a two or a three and would offer an alternative should the Sunderland manager need to drop one of our loanees.
Similarly, he could come into the central role and replace O’Shea in that formation. His communication isn’t as strong as O’Shea’s but he has experience, which is vital to getting the young lads through any given game. The problem, of course, is his injury record.
As unlikely as it seems, Coleman could of course just switch to a back four. As we saw against Ipswich, though, we are more likely to shoe-horn Billy Jones into the back three than change the system which we seem intent on perfecting.
If Coleman did have a change of heart, O’Shea is likely to struggle in that formation. The change could possibly happen to accommodate more attacking loan players and, in that case, we have the flexibility of a number of options should we prefer to go down that route.
Ultimately, though, Coleman appears stuck on his five-at-the-back system, and having someone experienced and dependable at that the core of that defence is integral to whatever plan he puts into action.
Back Four or a Back Five?
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