Wake-up call after poor performance
The display down at Wycombe yesterday was not a goodone, but in a funny way I can’t help but wonder if it might end up being a positive thing that we were so bad.
We have our biggest fixture of the season on Tuesday, and going into that we have to be one hundred percent on our game. After a number of very good weeks for this club, in which we won four matches on the bounce, we were brought right back down to Earth yesterday afternoon - something that may perhaps be needed to ensure that we head to Oakwell as focused and as well-prepared as we can possibly be.
Not only that, but it’s a reminder to the players that their spot in the side isn’t guaranteed, particularly with a cup final in a few weeks.
Wycombe have given us a lesson twice this season now on how to properly manage a game, and we have to be more prepared for what we know we’ll face when coming up against sides of their ilk.
They aren’t a good team, they don’t play nice football, and they don’t always follow the rule book, but they certainly don’t hide what they are and that’s why they’ve managed to achieve really good results against decent sides all season.
We won’t face the same sort of style against Barnsley, but that doesn’t matter - we were mentally battered and bettered by an inferior side yesterday, and that’s to their credit.
We now have to do some soul-searching and ask ourselves how we can be better.
If anything we should go into our promotion clash with Barnsley ten times more focused, motivated and ready to produce the kind of performance that we know we are capable of against a better footballing side than the one who sh*thoused us on Saturday afternoon.
Reasons to be positive
Despite feeling wholly deflated throughout the majority of the game I’m going to try not to dwell on the negatives too much, and instead focus on some of the positives.
Top of the list has to be the character that we showed to get ourselves back into the game. When you’re running out of time you take more risks, and that’s exactly what we did - Grant Leadbitter’s audacious shot from range, an effort you’d never usually see him take, moved all over and forced the error which led to Watmore’s equaliser.
We’ve had an uncanny knack of getting ourselves back into games this season when we’ve played badly, and yesterday was no exception. For me that’s a sign of a decent team, one that has immense drive, heart and desire. If you can play badly but find it from within to haul yourselves back into the game, you’re doing okay.
I won’t worry too much about the overall performance; as outlined above, not playing very well should be used as a marker for improvement given the focus we need to place upon the game on Tuesday, but we mustn’t dwell on it.
Bad day at the office? Absolutely... but it’s not the end of the world.
Defensive worries appear once more
Wycombe piled the pressure on us - both in open play and from set pieces - in the first 45 minutes, and for the majority of the half it felt like a matter of time before they would eventually find the back of Jon McLaughlin’s net.
They did, and the defending for the goal was poor.
But, prior to that, Wycombe had three very good chances to take the lead, and whilst they ultimately failed to make us pay on each occasion, it does plant the seed of doubt back inside the minds of some Sunderland supporters who, prior to this mini-run of wins we’ve had, were very worried by the suitability of our defence.
We’re allowed to have bad performances, but the level of ineptitude that was seen at times in yesterday’s draw must be analysed carefully ahead of the game with Barnsley. Despite lacking two of their best players in Moore and McGeehan, our promotion rivals are an incredibly dangerous team and are far more capable than Wycombe are of making teams pay for their mistakes.
Reece James, Jimmy Dunne, Tom Flanagan and Luke O’Nien must be fully aware that the performance shown was unacceptable - they’re first choice at the moment, but we have plenty of good players waiting in the wings if they don’t get immediately back on track.
They deserve to start together again on Tuesday but they can’t allow the complacency we saw down at Wycombe creep back in if we are to pick up the three points we so desperately need at Oakwell.