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OPINION: Reflecting on Burton - how can Sunderland improve when they face Rochdale on Saturday?

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Much has been said about the manner of Sunderland’s performance at Burton, but what are the things we should be focusing on as we strive to improve when we take on Rochdale at the Stadium of Light on Saturday?

Sunderland AFC

The significance of a single defeat

A great many words have been expended on the defeat at Burton Albion. Given that getting beaten is part and parcel of football, why was a single defeat seen as a such a significant moment?

The reason may be the unrealistic expectation of avoiding this scenario in League One. Despite having flown by the seat of our pants in previous matches, there was an anticipation we would learn the lessons of hard-fought draws and get back to winning ways.

Set against this are the natural laws of football. A defeat had to happen sometime, but it was the manner of said defeat that has provoked the soul searching. It wasn’t a heroic loss against a better side and a big club, but rather a worrying performance where we were punished for repeating past mistakes.

Sunderland AFC via Getty images.

Reflections from the manager, players, fans & commentators

Jack Ross was first up to offer his perspective - taking responsibility for the defeat and stating the importance of getting the fundamentals right; that the team have to be far more physical particularly early on in matches and not concede territory.

Above all, he stressed the need to not allow a negativity to set in. Put another way, he thinks the Lads have to become far better at winning League One style football. He’s right.

Furthermore, if Chris Maguire’s performance is anything to go by, then the players will respond. His line is that it’s a kick up the backside, that the early conceding has got to stop; that the team know how to fight the situation and will not let their heads drop as in previous seasons was impressive - much like the overall start to the season.

His interview has been well-received and seen as a fighting contribution that shows leadership qualities and dedication to the team as a whole - something that’s going be needed in abundance in the coming weeks.

Sunderland AFC via Getty images.

The fans, or at least the section reported in the press, have been less forgiving. They have been pointing to the fact that this has been coming for weeks - things such as ‘making the same mistakes’, ‘can’t get the basics right’ and ‘a lot of work needed on training ground on defending and how to play on the front foot’ tended to be the immediate opinion of many supporters in the hours and days following the game.

At such an early stage in the season some have even questioned the quality of the side and the quality of the manager. This kind reaction to one defeat appears rooted in unremedied mistakes and driven by a worry that these type of performances signal a return to a dismal past.

The significance of reporters and writers on blog sites and the press closely associated with the club is that these people obsess about Sunderland AFC day in, day out. In many ways, their views echo those of all the above, but with an added edge and knowledge.

A brief synopsis of the discussions had on Roker Report and on the podcast suggest a lack of width with Gooch playing narrow; a lack of control and dynamism in midfield with a lot of debate about whether Cattermole has the legs for it. Subsequently, due to lack of control, the midfield have been drifting too deep and thus making it more difficult to rebuild moving forward; therefore, the front four were relatively isolated. The podcast contained an interesting discussion about using particular players in defence with overlapping roles.

But for this to happen you need to control midfield much higher up than we’ve been doing in recent weeks. And time and again, the point about not defending set pieces with individual players not taking on their specific defensive responsibilities. There has also been an interesting sub-plot concerning the rejigging of the likes of Hume, Oviedo, Cattermole, Honeyman, McGeouch and the much missed Power.

Sunderland AFC via Getty images.

And what to do about it?

At the end of it all, however, the following quote probably sums up where we are presently:

Whilst the defeat against Burton is disappointing, it is important for players and supporters alike to remain positive. Sunderland need to start producing the fast-paced, high-octane, attacking performances that we enjoyed a few times in the early weeks of the season.

But to restart this style, several pieces have to be slotted into place. Really learning the lessons of previous games and being more physical in order to earn territory which will allows us to create the space for our passing game to return is a must. Furthermore, finding the right kind of balance in our shape for both midfield and defence is paramount.

While I haven’t focused here on individual players because I think it’s a team thing, we need to be clear who can cut the mustard in what will be a battling period to regain form and dominate this league.

Despite the loss of Charlie Wyke, Jack Ross has options and he should be using them decisively. Sunderland can bounce back, and we will.