Sure, Sunderland have some of the best players in the division.
Aiden McGeady can turn pretty much any League One fullback inside out. Grant Leadbitter has the experience and mentality to boss a midfield. Will Grigg, on paper at least, could top the scoring charts of this league with relative ease... but something is obviously missing, as made clear by our struggles against a much weaker Wycombe side.
I wouldn’t even say Wycombe were a big, strong side - they were just nasty. Wycombe’s forward Alex Samuel stands at only 5”8, but he was a constant threat to our centre backs Tom Flanagan and Jimmy Dunne, both of whom are far taller.
Samuel compensated for his lack of height by constantly throwing himself against our defence, using what physique he had to make himself a nuisance. And he did it well.
And that was consistent across the park.
Too many times a Sunderland player stood off a fifty-fifty ball, or went into the challenge only to be met by a Wycombe player who had thrown his whole body behind the collision.
That’s pretty much what happened with their goal. Lewis Morgan’s heavy touch created a loose-ball situation which was simply taken up by a Wycombe player, unchallenged. That player’s heavy touch should then have been taken care of by Leadbitter with a forceful challenge, but it wasn’t.
That left Jimmy Dunne stretched and uncommitted, which left him looking a little silly and out of position. A strong, decisive, committed tackle on the ball-bearer immediately after Leadbitter’s attempted challenge would have stopped the attack, either by the act of a great tackle, or a smart foul.
Across the whole game Wycombe conceded fifteen fouls, and obviously two red cards - but I’m sure they’ll believe that to be a worthy sacrifice for a point (almost three points!) against a much higher opposition.
That unfortunately is why we were second best against Gareth Ainsworth’s side, and indeed some other teams this season. Last Saturday’s opponents were willing to get their hands dirty to get a result. Sunderland, for whatever reason, were not, or at least didn’t seem to expect that Wycombe would give them such a tough time, both on and off the ball.
Having superior ability all over the park gives us a fantastic advantage over most teams, but in this league it is not all that counts. We really could have done with signing some physical players in the last transfer window, but that’s over and done with and in the past.
Working with what we have, we need to develop a nasty streak going into the final stages of this season in order to overcome less talented sides who are prepared to resort to physical tactics in order to stop us from playing our natural game.
In some games, against certain opponents, we need to worry less about giving away fouls and worry more about making sure the opposition know we won’t be kicked off the park.