Dear Roker Report,
Feel free to disagree with the below as someone who watches more games than I do - I’m based in Manchester at the moment so have managed to get to 1 away game (Doncaster) and a couple of home games (Bradford, Rochdale) alongside watching our televised games against Coventry and Charlton and paying for all the non Saturday 3pm streams (quite a few), which total to about 13 of our games I think.
I’m hoping this will be a bit more than the whinges I’ve seen about Jack Ross and is not controlling games in the midfield, which given goals have “dried up” to about 1 per game (largely due to inconsistent/simultaneous lack of form in our wingers and the absence of Honeyman) is more of a concern now than it has been for most of the season. This is mainly on the defensive aspect of things, as we are not seeing more than around 55% of the ball and tend to let the opposition have a lot of chances (even excluding those from set pieces where we have a natural disadvantage).
I think this boils down to a few reasons that go beyond what I don’t think are legitimate complaints about Cattermole, Power and McGeouch being immobile as I think they have a difficult task in managing when we have breakdowns in possession.
1. Opposition style of play is less about route 1 to a target man and regularly about hitting the channels. In fact most sides I have seen have had players who get across the full width of the pitch and receive balls into space. This gives us less time to get back into position than if they play it up to an out and out target man. This is not an easy league, and pace causes problems regardless of calibre of opposition.
2. Our style of play involves committing our full backs forward, meaning a lot of the time when we lose the ball our CMs need to cover here as well as the middle of the park, and given a lot of counters involve balls into the channel, we are particularly stretched. We could play a more careful, possession based system, but I don’t think that without attempting ambitious passes we would get the best out of Gooch, Maja or even Maguire and asking McGeady to play it safe takes away the entire reason he is a threat.
3. Without Honeyman in the team the rest of our attacking midfielders are wingers, therefore when we lose possession are rarely in a central position to either press whoever ends up on the ball there for the opposition, or provide cover for our CMs being dragged out of possession. Honeyman is key both defensively and offensively as we are also missing a link in the middle going forward, and could be an argument for playing O’Nien in there.
If we want to play expansive football and continue to score in every game even with Honeyman back, we will continue to give chances away and I don’t think it is as much of an issue as people are making out, so long as we don’t stop scoring ourselves. Only Barnsley I think have conceded less than us and we have no divine right to have 70% possession and steamroller teams every week, especially given our player turnover in the summer, and how young our squad is. I don’t see any reason to change our style of play to slow things down - have faith in Ross’ system, and I think we will come up trumps come the end of the season.
Ed’s Note [Gav]: You make some very good points Michael, and I guess overall we can’t be too disappointed with our defensive record or the fact we are third in the table. The problem I have with the current state of play is that we are obviously lacking in a number of positions, and adding the right kind of player in the areas where we are weak will most definitely be the difference between this team achieving automatic promotion and sitting in the play-off places.
There’s no doubting that we probably have enough to get promoted, but is that enough in itself? I think fans want to see the Lads dominate in more games, and when you consider the calibre of opposition that we have struggled against recently I’d suggest that is fair enough.
Ross noted this morning in his press conference that we are looking to strengthen in 2 or 3 areas, and I just hope he sees our problems in the same positions that I do. We need a striker, that much is evident, but we also lack depth in the wide positions and, despite having around 6 or 7 players in this position, we are clearly missing a midfield player with height and athleticism. Despite possessing their own individual qualities, the lads we have in there now are not physically dominant or particularly competitive in the air, and it hampers us in some games.
Your point about Honeyman is a sound one. People are starting to wake up to just how important he is in this team - since he got injured we’ve looked very average in my opinion, and that can’t be a coincidence.
Dear Roker Report,
Sunderland sell Andrew Nelson to Dundee after six goals in five games. Can somebody please explain this exit to me? The lad has never been given an opportunity to play. The exit of a young talent makes no sense at all.
Doug the Fulwell Mackem
Ed’s Note [Gav]: I can only presume that a number of factors have been considered with Nelson and why they’ve allowed him to leave the club in order to join another.
You’re right - he’s not been given a chance, although I would point out that he’s spent a lot of time out injured in recent seasons. It’s not his fault of course, but had he been fit this season he would definitely have played in the Checkatrade Trophy, a competition which has seen a number of young players find a launching pad and make their first team debuts.
Nelson’s contract was due to expire in the summer too, and the club have to also consider that. Do they think he’s worth keeping around beyond the end of the season? If they have designs on getting promoted, they have to consider whether a lad who will be 22 in the summer is going to be of the standard that they require in the first team. I’d hazard that they aren’t sure of that.
So, in short, my best guess would be that they’ve considered his recent injury history, the length of time left on his deal, his age and of course their opinion of whether he’s good enough to play for the first team in the Championship.
At the end of the day, he’s found himself first team football at a decent level and that’s a success for the club’s academy, even if he wasn’t destined to make it here.