It’s fair to say that this past weekend’s defeat against Burton Albion was a particularly disappointing affair. Many have stated in recent weeks that a first league defeat was edging closer on the horizon, that recent performances hinted at a downturn in form; however, the loss still stung.
I don’t know about you, but I harbored genuinely romantic, and somewhat fanciful, hopes that Sunderland could maybe go a full season undefeated.
I know it’s a daft thing to believe in, but there was a tiny smidgen of hope lingering around in the back of my mind like some wisp of smoke hinting that it could be done. Oh well, another dream lost to life’s harsh realities.
However, in face of our first league defeat, perhaps it’s time to look ourselves in the mirror and use this defeat as a means to seek improvement. As James Joyce once noted: “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” Maybe it’s time for Jack Ross and co. to embark upon a voyage of self-discovery?
If so, what did we learn this past weekend?
Let’s get physical: A change in shape required?
Adam Matthews and Bryan Oviedo were particularly poor last weekend, and their lackluster performances were perhaps to be partly expected. Matthews has struggled with fitness issues throughout this season whilst Oviedo had a matter of hours back in the North East after returning from international duty before being thrown into the starting XI against Burton.
Sunderland need to find a way to toughen up defensively, and the future inclusion of Tom Flanagan could be key if we are to compete against more athletic sides.
Burton were able to bully us this weekend - in particular they were able to really take the game to our defensive wide-men. Dropping Flanagan into the centre of defence playing just ahead of Loovens and Baldwin could give the side added height and power in the middle of the pitch. Subsequently, Hume, Oviedo, Matthews, James, or Love would then operate as wing-backs giving us an option of an overlap as well as a solid defensive block.
We need to tighten up defensively, perhaps a change in shape could help ease our woes?
Wyke’s injury means we need to be more ruthless in attack
After a sickening challenge from Burton’s onrushing keeper, the news that Charlie Wyke will likely be out for only 6-8 weeks is a blow that is disappointing to Jack Ross’ plans for the side.
Josh Maja will need to continue to find the back of the net, but Sunderland can’t continue to rely on his predatory instincts alone - and we certainly can’t utilize him as a stand-in target man. Instead, Sunderland need to find a more ruthless streak when going forward, and that might mean making a difficult decision in the coming games.
Lynden Gooch has struggled somewhat recently, while George Honeyman is sometimes lacking in terms of an incisive cutting edge. Jack Ross showed he isn’t afraid to drop a struggling player in order to ease any pressure - in fact it worked wonders for Chris Maguire who came back with a bang this weekend - so could Jerome Sinclair or Aiden McGeady be given a chance to provide the spark we have lacked at times this season?
They can both play across the front four, and both possess terrific attacking attributes, so will Ross try and manufacture a formation that includes more flair in the final third?
There’s still a long way to go, this isn’t the end of the world!
It’s verging on cliche, but there’s still plenty of time to ensure things go right this season. We currently sit in fourth place, a mere five points behind leaders Portsmouth - with thirty-eight games left to go. It’s fair to say this isn’t a major concern.
Criticism is of course allowed, and is certainly warranted after this past weekend’s performance - will Sunderland take criticism on-board and use it to help improve their performances moving forward?
That’s the sign of a winning side, and it’s what Jack Ross and his team will need to embrace in order to find success against Rochdale this coming weekend.
If truth be told, it feels like we have a very bright, intuitive, and insightful manager navigating the ship - and I’d wager that he is more than capable of assessing the situation before making the tactical tweaks required in order to help our team find a swift return to success.
A victory over Rochdale would be just the tonic to settle a side that have wobbled lately - here’s hoping Jack Ross can get the Lads back on track.