Q: Chris Maguire is going to be out for most of the rest of this season. Of the players we have left, who do you think could step up in his place (or not) and why?
Craig Davies says...
The loss of Chris Maguire, just at the point where Jack Ross finds him indispensable, is a massive blow at a crucial time in the season.
In recent months we’ve huffed and puffed through a mammoth series of mundane and stodgy draws. We’ve looked desperate in attack, a bit tired in midfield and just confused at the back. For me, a crucial, missing ingredient to our monotonous charge towards a world record in drawing insipid football matches, coincided with the loss of gritty leadership on the pitch. Cattermole was out injured and Maguire was just out. Both men have their detractors and not without cause. If you are in the ‘pro camp’ you will have enough evidence to feel comfortable in your support of these two men. Likewise if you’re in the ‘against’ camp, there’s enough data from this season to feel justified in your apathy.
But at this level, where brute force, gamesmanship and arrogant, sporting obnoxiousness are just as imperative as silky skill and speed, the loss of Maguire is quite a bitter blow.
After months of confusion and self doubt, we play a man, while limited in some ways, who has full confidence in who he is and what he is. He brings an edge that bristles and when on form is a wonderful mix of an iron fist in a silken glove. Of course he’s been inconsistent on occasion this season and ultimately this led to some time on the bench and even out of the squad.
By accident perhaps, rather than design, in the last two matches we’ve seen a hungrier Maguire. A more determined Maguire and a man who recognised that the coach, the team and the fans were looking for something, desperate for a small glimmer of victorious hope amongst a pile of limp and flaccid mediocre draws. His self belief and inner desire to be that link to better days saw a different Maguire.
But.... We’re Sunderland.... Good luck and perfect timing are rarely our seductive bedfellows. More our eternal nemesis. So Maguire is out, just as it was his moment.
Can Watmore fill this role? He has the will, the drive, but has not consistently shown the patience or footballing maturity to be a roaming no.10 type figure who subtly fits between defensive lines. He’s more of a head down and run like a Pamplonian bull kind of guy.
I’d like to see McGeady in that role. He’s creative, he’s skillful, he has experience and at this stage of his career, his leadership potential should be clear for all to see. This could perhaps free up the wings for the more pacy and direct Gooches, Watmores and Morgans of this world. Leaving Catts and Leadbitter to patrol the middle and protect and edgy back four.
We’ve missed Maguire and will continue to do so. But is it a killer blow? It shouldn’t be. Ross has a gigantic squad and the most expensive striker in the league. If we miss out on promotion it won’t be because of Maguire’s injury, it will be because Ross had the tools to do the job and blew it.
Morgan Lowrie says...
Maguire gives Sunderland something totally different from the rest of the squad, which is huge personality. Whilst the likes of O’Nien has won the hearts of supporters, Maguire is audacious and almost an enigma in his confrontational and energetic style. In that sense, Sunderland don’t have a player who can play on the opposition’s mindset as Maguire does with his escapades, and it that sense, he’s completely irreplaceable.
In terms of on the football pitch, the club has more than enough to cope with his absence. Firstly, Gooch is a player who would, if he can recapture the form of earlier in the season, likely keep the player who’s affectionately come to be known as King Maguire out of the starting line up, regardless of fitness. Then, of course, there’s Duncan Watmore.
Since his return from consecutive knee reconstructions, Watmore hasn’t hit the heights most had hoped. The physical recovery of an injury like that is monumental, but it pales into insignificance compared to the mental strife Watmore has endured.
Now Duncan has an opportunity to put that behind him, by coming into the team when he’s needed most, and being the shot of adrenaline the club require to achieve their ultimate goal, automatic promotion. While there is a lot of improvement expected, Watmore has previous.
The winger’s impact in Sunderland’s last successful Premier League survival bid, most notably victory at Carrow Road, was as significant as it was desperately needed.
If Watmore can recover to become a quality footballer at this level and the one above, which I’m most certainly confident he can, now seems like the perfect time. Fit, talented, and equally as important, the right attitude, the Manchester born speedster has everything it takes to not only cover Maguire’s absence, but to be a key player in Sunderland returning to the championship at the first time of asking.
Jack Ford says...
I think that Maguires injury is a massive problem for us, and clearly a huge shame for the man himself.
He really is nothing like any of our other players. At his best he’s like Aiden McGeady mixed with Stone Cold Steve Austin, mercurial talent mixed with attitude, intensity, bravery and a “fuck the world” chip on his shoulder.
His performances under the lights at the SoL in particular have at times been as good as any I’ve witnessed supporting Sunderland. From THAT turn and ball to set up Sinclair against Peterborough, to his unbelievable Alex Hunter-esque, Hollywood cliche game-saving performance off the bench against Stanley, he’s shown bags of character and talent when we’ve needed him most to turn around poor performances.
We definitely have talented wingers ready to step up, and who are definitely capable of playing a significant part in the team, but none with Maguires unique qualities.
The most obvious option, and the man arguably keeping him out the team recently, is Lynden Gooch. He’s one of our own, and has incredible stamina and industry, but at times has seen quite ineffective on the ball and has a knack of getting riled up and arguing with officials in a way that is mysteriously not as endearing as Maguire. He’s definitely the most proven option, and has shown he clearly has the ability to score and get assists for us, but like many of our players has looked a bit one-trick and in need of some time out of the side.
Next is Duncan Watmore, who to me has become an unproven quality during his long time our injured. Last season and this, I think I have been guilty of exaggerating the impact he’d have upon his return. While he’s definitely looked up for it, and capable of stretching opponents defences, his final ball is just non existent at the moment and his first touch is that of a man who’s been out of action for the better part of two years. It’s unfair to expect him to come back and play a hectic league one schedule while also contributing as much as Maguire in his current state.
For me, I’d definitely support giving Lewis Morgan a prolonged run in the team. Maguire might have been Sunderland’s talisman for much of this season, but Morgan has done this for Jack Ross in the past. He may be young and a little bit rusty following his lack of action at Celtic, but he’s looked sharper each time he’s played for us, and clearly has Ross’ trust and understanding. I’d love to see more of him, and think the most likely outcome is a combination of Morgan and Gooch rotating in and out of that right wing position.