“We have the players for it”
Our players are ready made for it. Leadbitter alongside either McGeouch or Honeyman will be able to control the game as a midfield two. We do not need three central midfielders to control possession when we have technically gifted ball-players like these in our squad.
Leadbitter in particular has looked a cut above the rest in the two games he has played in his Wearside return. McGeady on the left with either Morgan or Gooch on the wings provide creativity, and all three of them naturally cut in, leaving space for overlapping full-backs. This is where we need to make major changes to our starting 11.
We looked a much better team with O’Nien as a right-back. He injects energy into our team - energy we otherwise severely lack.
On the left, Oviedo is a much better player (particularly going forwards) than Reece James and it baffles me why we don’t start the Costa Rican when he is fit to play. With Oviedo and O’Nien overlapping wingers like McGeady, we will immediately look more dangerous going forwards.
Neither Wyke nor Grigg are really suited to a lone front-man role. They can both play as a lone striker, but would work better as a pair. Wyke needs someone to hold up the ball and win flick-ons for, Grigg needs someone to win his aerial duels for him. A 4-4-2 gets the best out of both of them and we need to do whatever we can to stop our run of low-scoring game.
Giving our strikers the best possible platform for success will help us do that.
“It gets us further up the pitch”
This seems like a really simple point but it is something that needs to be addressed urgently. Aside from the hideous ‘bootcut jeans and sheux’ combinations I noticed in the home stand I was stood in at Oxford, I did overhear some pretty pertinent points.
The main slur against Sunderland was that we did not get into their final third much for a big team. I can’t argue with this. We bought Will Grigg to score the goals to fire us to promotion, not to fire balls aimlessly up to him in the hope he will out-jump his markers.
We can’t expect to sustain pressure on ‘lesser’ teams if most of the game is played in the middle third. We don’t create enough chances, and we haven’t looked like unlocking teams for months.
One of the most simple solutions to this is bringing in a classic number 9 who will win those balls fired up to him. When Wyke came on, he didn’t look like scoring, but we as a team did. He won the flick-ons that Grigg can’t be expected to win and we moved up the pitch as a unit.
It’s basic football - the more time you spend around the opposition area, the more chances you will have to score. Our current approach isn’t working, so we need to find another way to get up the pitch.
“It reflects a Sunderland identity”
We’ve had many identities in the last decade and none have stuck. From Poyet’s continental possession-based game to Allardyce’s blood and thunder approach, we have lurched from one playing style to another as managers depart through the Academy of Light’s perennially revolving door.
However, when other clubs’ fans think of Sunderland’s stand-out identity in recent years, they still think back to Quinn and Phillips in the late 90s/early 00s.
Peter Reid’s 4-4-2 heralded an era of relative success for our club and the little and large striker combination was a huge part of that. Having two strikers with very different styles of play gave Premier League defenders something to worry about for 90 minutes. Football hasn’t changed so much that it wouldn’t have the same effect in League One. After all, it was only a few years ago that Leicester surprised everyone and won the Premier League with a hard-working 4-4-2 formation.
It is a lazy suggestion to say that Wyke and Grigg will immediately strike up the League One equivalent of Quinn and Super Kev, but how will Jack Ross know if he doesn’t try it?
Our next five games are all very winnable. If we have the opportunity to go to a more attacking formation like 4-4-2 with a favourable run of fixtures, I think we should take it.
What do you think? Should we stick with Jack Ross’s current 4-2-3-1, try a 4-4-2, or go for a completely different formation in the coming weeks?