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Roker Roundtable: Sunderland need to win the next two games - how confident do we feel about it?

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Two home games in four days against relegation threatened teams means Sunderland should be targeting six points, keeping ourselves close to the teams above us, but are we confident that we’ll be able to do it?

Sunderland AFC

Q: The Blackpool result was disappointing, but it was clear to see that we tried to shake things up with our system and team selection. How confident are you that we’ll get the results we need from the next two home games?

Damian Brown says...

I was as gutted as anyone to see a lacklustre display on Tuesday evening - particularly considering that I’d spent much of the weekend defending Jack Ross, Will Grigg and the unenviable position our squad is in. There are half a dozen reasons that we would struggle for form right now but, football being what it is, there comes a point where the buck has to stop. I feel like we’re cresting that point now, if we haven’t already.

But for all that results aren’t going our way do we actually have an idea of how it could feasibly be changed? I’m not going to ignore that Ross is due criticism anymore - that’s a given. But I can’t support an action as drastic as replacing him, nor can I pinpoint exactly what his flaws are, even.

From a layman’s perspective it’s clear to see that our efforts don’t match our designs. I can’t speak for the tactical acumen of Jack Ross, and when I talk of efforts I don’t mean the lengths our players are willing to go to seal 3 points at every time of asking; the goal is obviously to win the game and the players run themselves ragged trying to do so. Even following several tweaks of the formation and line-up we remain unable to dominate large swathes of play, and seem toothless. So when asked the question “can we win our next two home games?” I can’t do much other than shrug and say I bloody well hope so.

It seems to me that there aren’t many options left available to Jack Ross in any event. He can pull a player out and put another one in his place but realistically if Grigg, Wyke and Watmore don’t step up fast we’re going to be left once again wondering where the goals are coming from.

The overall performance of all three on Tuesday was stunted at best and it’s hard to conceive of a methodology that will make them simply click into place.

We have some great individual players and while I can’t ignore that it’s Ross’ responsibility to ensure they play well together, I can’t blame him entirely for their largely underwhelming individual performances.

I’m of the belief that all this team needs is time and consistency; to learn their roles by rote and execute their duties on the pitch as if they had grown up together doing so. That’s a big ask of any team, let alone one pieced together from the checklist of several previous managers on a budget varying from shoestring to cheesestring.

I’m not making the well-worn excuse that this squad isn’t his baby now because he’s had as fair a crack of the transfer whip as anyone at this point, but I want to highlight that it is still a comparatively young squad in terms playing time as a unit. I want to believe that given enough time they’ll fit together but as to the question of whether that will happen in the next few weeks? I’d be surprised.

I think we can expect more frustration in the coming games, but I think it will be fleeting.

This team is good enough and Jack Ross is good enough.

Sunderland AFC

Jack Ford says...

My New Year’s football resolution was to be less pessimistic when it came to Sunderland but, god, it’s hard to do so at the moment.

The part of me that is an irrational football fan thinks we’re going to turn it around on Friday night in front of the cameras, with a Will Grigg hat trick and Aiden McGeady wizardry. The natural pessimist part of me, that looked at Sunderland’s key stats so far this season, and has eyes that saw the utter dross we served up against Oxford and Blackpool thinks nothing’s going to change any time soon.

We’re still far too indirect and one-paced, and have proven absolutely incapable of matching the intensity of opposition teams that so often rise to the occasion of playing at the SoL, rather than withering in front of our fans.

A massive part of that in my eyes is down to confidence, and things like Will Grigg missing open goals are both cause and effect of this. I’m hoping that the atmosphere at home improves soon, because we know now what a vicious circle it can create when bad performances lead to toxic fan interactions, which then make performances even worse.

Jack Ross isn’t above criticism in my eyes, and has a fair share of blame to take along with the players, but now is the time to make a contribution.

I’d love to see fans get to the ground early, pack the SoL, get behind the lads from the first to last minute, and try to create an atmosphere that boosts the team and makes the opposition fear coming to play us.

The thing is, I know how hard it is to do that when the grim reality of drawing 1-1 every week against poor League One sides sinks in. I don’t know how many more Aiden McGeady stepovers I can take.

Sunderland AFC

Craig Davies says...

As much as I try to rise above the fickle nature of fans, I find myself unable to control my emotions at times, probably returning to the volatile and temperamental attitude of supporters quicker than most!

On Tuesday I was furiously discussing with my mates the pessimistic future of Jack Ross should we only pick up a few points out of these three quick-fire home games, never mind his fate should we fail to be promoted.

Fortunately today is a new day. Firstly there were positives. Some reasonable play, some applied pressure and Grigg getting into some great positions.

But overall, I felt it was flat and a bit desperate again. Despite going for the devil-may-care pace and unpredictable nature of Gooch and Watmore, and the driving will of Honeyman, it appeared muddled and unplanned. More improvised hope than tactical genius.

One school of thought to the changes in personnel is that Ross has three quick home games so is interchanging his squad to keep everyone fresh. Another rationale to explain the team and formation is that Jack isn’t certain of who to play and when.

And despite the alterations to individual positions the problems were largely the same. The changes didn’t solve any of our recent playing issues which is a shame. There seems to be a strangulation of confidence which is odd for a team who’ve largely had a good season, had the support of the crowd, the backing of the owner and the biggest budget in League One.

So Tuesday’s match didn’t fill me with a lot of hope that our performance conundrum is going to be solved by Friday. However, that doesn’t mean that it won’t. What we do know is, that Ross and his staff will be working incredibly hard to rebuild confidence and find a shape and team that can garner brighter displays and improved results. On Tuesday I was a reactionary doom merchant.

Today I’m a reflective optimist. Hopefully, after Accrington I’ll be a reformed, re-converted believer of Jack Ross and his squad. One thing I’m certain of, once Grigg puts a few away, confidence in him and the team can only go one way.

Sunderland AFC

Chris Sparks says...

The Blackpool result and performance was alarming and concerning to say the least. We lacked any real identity until the last 25 minutes, with most the team not really grasping what their role was and struggling to do what was asked of them, particularly the midfield.

Despite Charlie Wyke being clumsy and erratic with his play, he does offer a physical outlet up top and the formation we used when he came on seemed to suit our play a lot better. It allows us to push a bit further up the pitch and gives our creative players a bit more space to be clinical.

If Jack Ross can get the squad all signing from the same hymn sheet using the formation that ended the Blackpool game then I can see an upturn in our form and performance levels again. Add Oviedo instead of Flanagan to the team that walked off the pitch on Tuesday and that would be the side that I would pick for the visit of Accrington Stanley.

We have the quality in the squad and in the dugout, we just need to fit the pieces of the jigsaw together now!