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Fan Letters: “Jack Ross has to find a winning formula & quickly” - will Sunderland shake it up?

Sunderland’s tactics, playing style and the current 4-2-3-1 formation is firmly on the minds of the Roker Report readers as we head into tonight’s game with Blackpool. Email us: - we’ll include your message in the next edition!

Fan Letters
Fan Letters
Danny Roberts | Roker Report

Dear Roker Report,

Like all supporters I am desperate to get promoted this season. League One has been great (we don’t lose much at least), but I don’t think we want another season in it. We are almost certain to be in the playoffs at least, but no one really wants this.

Jack Ross has set the team a target of two points per game (PPG) - this would give you 92 points at the end of the season. In three of the last four seasons this would see you promoted.

In other words - you would be desperately unlucky to hit 92 points and not get promoted automatically.

If, and this is an if, we beat Blackpool on Tuesday, we are back to two PPG and all is on track, but I fear we have it all to do if we want to keep up with Barnsley and Luton who are on fine runs of form.

The problem we have is creativity. It is great we have replaced Maja with Grigg, but at the moment it would make no difference if we had Sergio Aguero up front as we are not creating any chances. I attach a link to a great article that looks at some stats in detail.

Just look at the pictures in the above gallery and it confirms what we all know in our gut:

- Without Jon McLaughlin some of our draws would have been defeats.

- We do not create enough.

- Josh Maja was clinical with the chances he had.

Creativity is the problem, but I also think we have an issue in that Jack Ross has too many options to pick from. Earlier in the season we did well when options were limited. Is this a sign that the manager can get the best out of smaller group but struggles to find the the best blend in a bigger group? This is perhaps a little unfair as the new players have not been here long but the point is valid - nobody, and this includes fans, will agree on the best team.

I would guess that only McLaughlin and Grigg would feature in every supporters’ best eleven.

Fundamentally, we need more attack minded players in the team and we have to avoid the two sitting midfielders now. We need to keep pace with Barnsley and playing 4-2-3-1 is not going to do that.

I think one of two formations would help:

This gets O’Nien in the team or you could put Matthews in at RB and move O’Nien to midfield at the expense of Maguire. Power has not done enough lately and Honeyman has the legs to cover midfield. This still gives the like of Watmore, Morgan, Sterling, Wyke, McGeouch,and Oviedo on the bench to change the game if required.

The other option is 3 at the back:

Having O’Nien and Gooch as wing backs keeps good work ethic for tracking up and back but we have a little bit more attacking impetus in losing James and Power. You could use Oviedo instead of Gooch on the left or try Wkye instead of Watmore perhaps.

The common theme in both of these is that we have stopped having two purely defensively minded midfielders. At the start of the season, Power was much more attacking but he does not seem to bring this to the team now.

Ross now has more selection dilemmas and the potential for disgruntled players. How do you get O’Nien in the team? What about McGeouch who looked great in the last match he played against Manchester City U21? Will Maguire, McGeouch or O’Nien be demotivated that Leadbitter and Morgan have gone straight into the squad?

I think Leadbitter is a great addition and Morgan also looks decent, but perhaps introducing the latter more slowly and asking the current squad to up their games before dropping them might have been better.

Competition for places is important, but in midfield have we got too much?

Ross has to find a winning formula and quickly.

Neil Ruttley

Ed’s Note [JN]: Some great research. We are a clinical team, and the overall quality we have really shines through in that aspect; however, as you state, we suffer heavily in carving teams open and creating genuine chances.

Most League One sides line themselves up against the Lads in two deep banks of four, soaking up pressure and countering on the break. I agree that we need to stop playing such a defensively-minded midfield pivot, especially considering how Max Power has severely under-performed since Walsall away.

One of our main issues is our inability to turn dominance and attacks into goalscoring chances. We have created more “promising attacks” than any other side in the league, yet have the single-worst attack conversion rate in the league (converting these attacking situations into shots on goal).

I’d personally like to see a 4-3-3 with O’Nien and Honeyman flanking Grant Leadbitter in midfield. Many fans have been proposing wild personnel changes over the last two weeks, but with four new January signings now starting, the overhaul has already been made. We need familiarity amidst our players.

However, on the ball, huge changes need to be made. 4-3-3 or a back-three would be sensible options, but we cannot panic and resort to a 4-4-2. Our midfield already gets dominated in many matches, and simply forcing another striker on the pitch would expose our issue in giving opposing attacking midfielders space behind the midfield line and encourage the defence to continue to ludicrously skip the midfield and lob the ball aimlessly towards two-three hulking brutes in the opposition’s central defence.

The central defenders need to split wider, allowing Leadbitter space to come deep and dictate, while our full-backs need to be much more pro-active in making forward runs, allowing the wingers to cut inside and support Will Grigg, and the two wider central midfielders need to push much higher up the pitch. Our positional play and movement off the ball has been sorely lacking more and more as the season progresses, and this needs changing as soon as possible.

Jack Ross deserves immense credit for galvanising, rebuilding and leading a newly-built squad to fourth - in-between scores of sides who have played together for years - but his most recent challenge of finding out how we can unlock packed defences is just as important.

For me, it is to go back to basics, focus on our strengths on the ground, return to pressing higher up the pitch and cease the needless and aimless long balls over the top.

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

It seems possible that whether we are promoted or not, there could be several players that have had significant roles leave this summer because of wages or playing time, such as Oviedo, Matthews, and Cattermole.

With this in mind, are there any players we have faced this year, that are not on teams likely to be promoted, who we might sign in the summer, or the club has indicated we have had interest in?

I am only able to watch matches online, as I do not live in the country.

Also, as it seems we have such a loaded midfield, would it be possible we change to a formation that is more centered on midfield dominance, such as a 4-5-1?

Colter Lasley

Ed’s Note [JN]: I covered my thoughts in the formation and tactics above, so here I’ll focus on the possible outgoing players. I think Cattermole and Oviedo leaving would definitely be in the clubs best interests (especially were we to miss out on promotion). Both have sizeable wage packets which we could do without yet actually contribute very little both on and off the pitch.

Naturally, this would cause a some consternation within the playing squad, and rightfully so. The former causes me a particular headache. His legs have gone, and off the pitch he is no longer a boisterous leader, but quiet - as a result there are very few potential suitors out there. Oviedo still has international class and should be picked up by a Championship side at the very least.

The club are very much planning ahead, but all financial dealings are predicated upon staying in League One - a sensible approach. The club and staff likely have targets identified, but this all very much applies to whichever league we will be in, and spending is likely mirrored by this.

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