When the team sheet arrived on Saturday afternoon, there was a notable absentee – the injured Aiden McGeady. Many consider him the best player outside the top two divisions. While, despite his rather sizeable wage, Sunderland felt they had pulled of coup by extending his deal in the summer.
After some initially struggling for form or fitness in his early spell at the Stadium of Light, McGeady believes that Sunderland has brought the best out of him since the turn of the year. The Republic of Ireland international at his best could really prove a catalyst for our promotion push and write himself into folk law.
If we were to compare McGeady to anyone with regards to style and area of play, certainly from Sunderland player’s over recent years, it would have to be Steed Malbranque. Easily the most skillful player in either respective squad, they have an ease and a finesse about them, that even on the drabbest of footballing days can excite the Black Cats crowd.
But there is another comparison that can be drawn with regards to Irish twinkle-toed talisman. It could surprise you too, because what we have seemingly been watching for the past 12 months is a direct comparison to that of the former Swansea City midfield loanee, Ki Sung-Yueng.
While Ki was a revelation in the beginning, everyone remembers Sunderland’s first Great Escape. Well, then you will also remember the exciting and dynamic run-in with those memorable wins at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge. With Ki injured, Sunderland were forced to adapt, with time running out Poyet’s team played at a much quicker tempo on the front foot. Some may disagree, but we wouldn’t have been able to do that with Ki in the side. Such was the way the match slowed to his pace whenever he was in possession.
That grew a little frustrating later that season before he was injured.
Like with Ki, it seems everything these days goes through McGeady. To keep Sunderland at bay, the message for opponents is becoming ‘simply stop McGeady’. It was Bolton’s game plan in the previous away game. Causing Sunderland problem’s down the left-hand side completely nullified McGeady’s influence in the first half.
The last couple of games Sunderland have been without McGeady and have won both matches. So, do we play better without him?
The comparison between Ki and McGeady comes with how time stands still when the ball goes to them. Their assurance on the ball instills confidence in the players around them, but does that also cause Sunderland a problem?
Playing the ball to McGeady isn’t just the game plan, it has become the cop out. So, is there too much expectation he is going to play that one, blockbuster pass, turn the last defender inside out or score from nothing?
His influence and presence in the team should be challenging the teammates around him. They should be looking to bust a gut to make the best run or get into the best position – not stood still as though the music has been turned off during musical statues.
In the early part of Gus Poyet’s tenure on Wearside, his entire philosophy was set up with everything being played through Ki. Poyet’s desire for slow build up play from the back required Ki’s assured touch and calmness on the ball. Similarly, Jack Ross also desires a methodical style of play, and McGeady’s paramount to that. But while that helps control possession, it doesn’t necessarily provide a cutting edge that Sunderland are lacking.
Look at Sunderland’s second goal against MK Dons on Saturday, with Luke O’Nien bursting forward. It seems we don’t get enough movement ahead or around McGeady like that when he is in the team. Perhaps even Max Power has moved a little further forward to score from outside the box in the last two matches, just because McGeady isn’t there…
They always say a great midfield player can dictate the tempo of a match. But as with Ki, McGeady seems to slow the game while he thinks what to do next. It isn’t really his fault, but there is no urgency around him.
This is possibly because he is on a different wavelength. If that is the case, Ross needs to school his players. To get the best out Sunderland and McGeady we need to adapt our attacking game quickly. Otherwise, the first half against Bolton won’t be the last frustrating half for McGeady or for Sunderland this season.