Dear Roker Report,
I think it’s time Jack Ross returns this team to what it does best. Clean sheets can sod off! Let’s just focus on winning, and if thumping teams 4-2 is the way to do it, then why complain?
We started the season like this, leaking a goal then going on to win 2-1 or 3-1 and everyone criticised Ross for not being able to stop us conceding.
‘What happens when the goals dry up?’ Well they never did. Instead we kept conceding (because we’ve got a league 1 defence) but the attack became cowed and less prolific, unable to score 1 more goal as we had done previously.
Looking back it’s no coincidence the forms of Gooch, Maguire and the strikers dipped as we went in search of a clean sheet. I think it’s a lost cause. Just bully teams by smashing 5 goals past them. Even if we concede a couple, at least the football’s exciting.
Ed’s Note [Gav]: I wouldn’t say that Jack Ross is stubborn as a manager, and that’s been reflected in his team selections over the last three games - he was fully aware we weren’t creating enough or scoring goals, so he’s tried new stuff.
We have some great attacking players for this level but its about balance. Cattermole and Leadbitter showed last night we could well have an effective midfield partnership, and our forwards have delivered pretty consistently this season. For me, the focus should be less about goalscoring and more about tightening up that leaky defence - but doing so without compromising our attack. It’s actually quite difficult when you think about it!
Dear Roker Report,
This letter is heavily based on a comment I made in response to one of your articles but I feel so strongly about it that I’m sending it as a letter too.
Just take a moment to think about that. Sunderland AFC were playing Accrington Stanley at the Stadium of Light. A team with the biggest budget in the league by a country mile was playing a team that was probably put together for less than we spend on a striker. A team aiming to win the league was playing a team who haven’t been able to hit a barn door in 2019.
Given all of that, you would think that the main question for the night would be whether we’d score double figures or not and for a good portion of Friday night, one of those teams was certainly made to look bang average at best but sadly it was Sunderland being given a footballing lesson for a lot of the evening and not Accrington Stanley.
THAT is simply not acceptable! It’s all very well banging on about teams raising their game with us and it being a competitive league but let’s face it, in terms of the size of the club and the difference in budget, last night’s game was like Manchester City playing Doncaster Rovers yet we were bloody lucky to get away with a draw because without McGuire we would certainly have lost and deservedly so.
Ross said the games in hand were vital and if we didn’t get victories this week he deserved criticism. Well, the games in hand we now have as I write this will still leave us a win away from Barnsley and two wins away from Luton. Automatic promotion is no longer in our hands so we’re now reliant on the top two slipping up and that’s a real worry because the way we’re playing, I have no real confidence that we’ll win the play-offs.
Does this really mean that the idea of playing two up front is dead? It certainly shouldn’t because I think that’s too much of a sweeping statement and ignores many other factors but I do think that the idea of playing Wyke in the team should be dead. I was willing to give him a chance as part of a front two but no longer. When he was in the team before his injury, we played badly and I was pleased he was out for a while. Ever since he’s come back into the team, we’ve played very badly again. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
With Wyke in the team we always just hoof it up the park to no effect and even when it does get close enough to him, he’s just not good enough. The recruitment team and Ross just have to admit they got that one badly wrong and move him on in August. I don’t want to ever see him in the team again, not even on the bench.
I still think a front two can work but Grigg needs a different partner so perhaps Sterling, Kimpioka or even Watmore. Actually, I’m fine with us using a lone striker in Grigg as long as he has a lot of support from a dominating and attacking midfield. To be honest, I wish we still had Nelson and had sold Wyke to Dundee because they certainly ended up with the better player!
I don’t think I need to say much about our midfield because it’s so obvious what needs to be done that even Ross must be seeing it now! It needs to be an attacking midfield and it needs to be a midfield that includes McGuire. It’s also clear that O’Nien can be a key player for us and is much better going forward so if he’s not going to be played in his central midfield role, he has to be used as a wingback, not a fullback.
Our defence continues to be a shambles, as it has been for a few seasons now and needs a major rethink. Dunne isn’t 100% reliable and isn’t even our player while Baldwin was a liability on Friday night. To be honest, none of our CB’s really inspire confidence and that’s why I think we need three of them in there with wingbacks. Flannagan needs to be back in there for sure and frankly, at this stage I’d like to see Ozturk given a chance. He was absolutely fantastic in his last cup outing and certainly no worse than what we have now so why not make him part of a back three? At least he’d be hungry and have a real desire to impress. Use either Baldwin or Dunne with those two.
We all know that 4-2-3-1 doesn’t work and I never thought 4-4-2 was the answer either so I’m bemused as to why Ross chose to go that way. Everything I’ve seen (which I admit is limited where I live) and read suggests to me that we have to go 3-5-2 with perhaps the second striker sat just behind Grigg.
We MUST stop mindlessly hoofing the ball up the park on a wing and a prayer but use this system to our strengths. I don’t think Ross needs to be sacked at this moment but he has to start learning the lessons quickly and stop relying on his favourites as we only have to look at Moyes to see how well that works. Nevertheless, if I was Donald I’d be seriously annoyed that after this much investment, automatic promotion is no longer entirely in our own hands.
Ed’s Note [Gav]: I realise that this letter was sent before last night’s game, but I’ll still attempt to address it! I’ll be honest, I think we were loads better from an attacking perspective against Accrington - it just took us a while to get going. That first half was a wake up call we desperately needed, and it can’t be said we didn’t work hard enough at putting the score right in the second half.
Thankfully, we learned from that poor start last night against Gillingham... well, ish. We got an early goal, we just struggled to defend when they went straight up the other end.
There’s a lot of nervous energy about the players at the minute, but hopefully the win last night can put paid to that and from now we move forward.
In terms of team selection I think it’s important that Ross now gets consistent with it. Dunne was a disaster again last night but I expect he’ll retain his place, and it doesn’t look like Chris Maguire will miss the next game so he should start against Bristol Rovers.
I’d like to see Ross now play a settled side for a run of games to see if we can develop some consistency. We have a tough game with Barnsley in three weeks, and a cup semi final even sooner than that. If we go into both games in a good spell of form, it only bodes well for the rest of the season.