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Opinion: “Time to stop p*ssing around - Sunderland need to start proving they’re good enough!”

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It’s getting to squeaky bum time in Sunderland’s season and automatic promotion is out of our hands - with time running out, should we be expecting more from the team and the manager in terms of the standard of performances?

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As united as our fanbase has been this season it appears that, when it comes to our promotion chances, not everyone is on the same page.

Whilst some fans have their glass half full, correctly pointing out that there are plenty of twists and turns to come just yet, others have a glass half empty, bemoaning our rather average performances since the turn of the year and the apparent refusal of both Barnsley and Luton Town to drop points.

Many Sunderland supporters criticised NTT20 host George Elek when he made the rather bold claim that the Lads would come up short at one point this season based on his analysis of touches taken in the box. Wearside collectively smirked, as we pointed to our then impressive league position and goals scored from outside the box.

His assessment held some weight like many statistics do, but when you have an arsenal of players who are proficient when firing from outside the box the point somehow becomes moot.

In essence, what statistics showed was our abundance of individual quality and our ability to produce a bit of magic not often seen in other teams across the division. However, the more this campaign has dragged on, the more Sunderland are being left behind in the automatic promotion spots. So does Elek have a point? Or are their other factors at play?

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
January loan signing Jimmy Dunne has struggled since his move.
Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

We never seemed close to bulging the Barnsley net on Tuesday and the story at Wycombe was fairly similar up until the 94th minute. We’re not creating enough chances, and don’t look like a coherent attacking unit. Simply put, we don’t look like a side who could overtake Barnsley at the present moment.

At the beginning of the season there were periods where we’d maybe put teams away in ten blistering minutes (Rochdale, Barnsley and Scunthorpe for example) before coasting through the remainder of the game, but for some reason the team has struggled to replicate anything near the slick attacking play showcased at the beginning of the campaign.

Why exactly has Ross became so cautious, when our counterparts seem to have thrown even more caution to the wind in their chase for automatic promotion?

Never mind touches in the box - a more worrying stat for a team looking at automatic promotion is shots per game. We are simply not getting close enough to the goal, and the often cautious nature of our play could be attributed as a reason why that happens.

Barnsley average almost double our attempted shots on per game with 16.7 shots per game and average of 6.2 shots on target per game, with Luton’s average very similar. Sunderland, by contrast, average under five shots on target per game. We simply can not afford to continue to be as conservative and one dimensional as we have been since December, or the end result will likely be the play-off lottery that nobody wants.

So why the change in Jack Ross’ tactics? Was it our inability to keep clean sheets during the beginning of the season that altered his thoughts? When we were hammering four goals past teams - did anyone really care? Three points are three points.

Will Grigg has often cut an isolated figure since his £3m January move.
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The addition of Jimmy Dunne was supposed to remeedy those defensive woes. But, not only do we look even shakier at the back, but his infuriating insistence on putting long balls forward to an isolated Will Grigg has clearly hampered our ability to retain possession of the ball and harm teams in recent months.

In my opinion, Jack Ross needs to adddress this by returning to a style of play that best suits the players that we have - that way, we give ourselves the best possible chance of finishing the season as strongly as we possibly can.

So should our glass be half full, or half empty? Which side of the divide has the best argument? Well... that’s quite a difficult question to answer, but perhaps the answer is in Jack Ross’ mindset heading into the final stretch.

The quality in our squad is there in abundance and with the attacking flair we have we are rightly the envy of many league one sides. With eleven games to go, there’s no reason to think we can’t put together a run of that form that elevates us above Barnsley, provided of course that Ross decides to throw some caution to the wind.

But, if he continues to prolong this cautious style of play that has resulted in some pretty awful football, the half empty glass may tumble over completely and condemn us to competing in the lottery that is the League One play-offs.