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Roker Roundtable: Should Sunderland stick with 4-4-2, or is a change in formation needed?

Despite serving us well against Rochdale and Accrington, Sunderland’s 4-4-2 formation perhaps let them down against Burton and Coventry. Should we persist with it, or change to something else in a bid to get back to winning ways?

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Q: Sunderland’s “4-4-2” formation has been panned after Saturday’s heavy defeat to Coventry, but playing in that manner yielded victories over Accrington and Rochdale. What do you think - do we need a change or should we stick with it? What would you do instead?

James Nickels says...

Change it up. Oh, and drop Grigg too. He’s clearly benefited from having Wyke alongside him but that goal at the weekend merely papered over the cracks from what was one of the worst performances on the pitch (aside from those defenders).

Nothing he did stuck and he didn’t work for it. Granted, he wasn’t aided by Flanagan and Baldwin’s insistence to whack the ball long and far of any target at every opportunity and the whole team’s inability to play the right kind of service. Every ball to Wyke was in behind and Grigg with his back to goal. It was truly mystifying.

However, he was off the pace by quite some distance and frankly deserves to be dropped. One can only hope Chris Maguire is fit enough to come straight into the side as his creativity is a massive, massive miss.

If McGeouch is still out, then we don’t play 4-4-2, it’s as simple as that. Neither Leadbitter not Cattermole have the legs nor do Catts or Power have the discipline to play in a midfield two - and the latter only does well in the formation alongside the tidy Scot.

The work the midfield is forced to do is so much more than in most other formations, and as a result any combination of this lot tend to sit incredibly deep. At times we basically had Leadbitter and Power right by the defenders (who STILL couldn’t pick a pass to them 10 yards away) and then a 50 yard gap to Wyke and Grigg.

Against these two sides I’d certainly get more bodies in midfield, and leave Grigg as an impact sub off the bench.

Is it time to drop Will Grigg?
Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Chris Wynn says...

It’s not a case of dumping formations and tactics where they’re never seen again - I think it’s a case of getting it right on when to apply them. We’ve looked good with 4-4-2 at times and this has been with the right personnel and against the right opposition.

It’s interesting that in our recent run of games, that playing a more attacking style has suited us away when teams may be more open when trying to attack more at home.

In the game against Burton they kept it tight, packed the midfield and played possession football. Against Coventry, it seemed like they surprised us by pressuring us higher up the field. Anyone who saw our two centre backs on the ball against Burton would have done just that.

But an extra man in midfield would have mitigated the disasters at the back. We need to be flexible and we need to be smart about it.

Contrary to the opinions of some people, I don’t think we’re good enough to play the same way every week and roll teams over. There’s a time and place for all these tactics and it needs to come with the buy-in and application of the players.

They’ve got us this far, it’s still in our hands, but it’s going to be tight.

Getty Images

Mark Carrick says..

When we have the right personnel 4-4-2 is a viable option. The problem against Coventry was playing a midfielder at right back and a wannabe winger at left back.

In itself that isn’t a problem if there is discipline but leaving two central defenders exposed and yards apart, without anything in midfield covering the swathes of space is going to be an issue.

McGeouch covers the back four well, as does Leadbittter. Catts has advanced a little and that’s better for he hasn’t the legs to cover the ground anymore. Power, too, likes to play a little further up-field. So without McGeouch perhaps the better option at left back is Denver Hume. He brings a willingness to support attacks but knows the discipline of defending. Reece James, for all recent critisicm, has tempered his advance play to maintain a steady defence. If Oviedo can’t do the same, Hume needs to start on Friday.

Similarly O’Nien needs a wide player ahead of him to limit his forays up field. Honeyman’s drifting inside left the whole flank exposed as times and O’Nien was too advanced too often.

Personally I’d change it, but more for the obvious nature of Grigg’s injury. I’d be tempted to bring Catts in alongside Leadbittter and move Honeyman centrally. Morgan to the right and McGeady left. If not McGeady, through Oviedo into the wide role and bring Hume in behind him.

Sunderland AFC

Jake Hannah says...

4-4-2, on the face of it, seems like the most solid base for any football team; two banks of four, familiarity for the homegrown players, and the opportunity to play two strikers alongside each other.

Personally, I believe that this formation is definitely the way forward when playing on the various smaller pitches across League One. The idea of allowing Wyke and Grigg to form a partnership where they can play off each other is something that almost every other team in this league would cherish.

On the smaller pitches, the two forwards will naturally play closer to each other to allow the likes of McGeady and Morgan to operate in the wider areas. However, in home games we seem to play with two isolated strikers as they are required to cover a far larger distance.

Another problem I see with 4-4-2 at home is the distance between the central defenders and central midfielders as we look to control the game. Having no natural protection for the back two leaves us completely open to counter attacks as seen in the loss to Coventry.

At home, I’d like to see our two central midfielders sit deeper while not necessarily dropping our defensive line too far back, creating a box of four players to prevent central counter attacks in a 4-2-3-1 formation that the players are mostly accustomed to. On the other hand, I’d stick with the 4-4-2 I’m away games to get the front two working together.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

James Gutteridge says...

The 4-4-2 formation isn’t inherently the issue. We’ve shown that when we have the right personnel and try to play the right style of football to match the formation that we’re actually capable of producing successful watchable football.

I’m more concerned about the lack of defensive leadership and inconsistency in the style of football we seem to be trying to play than about which specific formation we use.

For my money, in a 4-4-2 we need McGeouch and Leadbitter playing together with plenty of willing runners around them, whoever that might be. Both of them are classy players and can retain the ball and deliver a killer pass and we should be making more use of that.

There are question marks over pairing Baldwin and Flanagan at centre back but at the minute I’m not convinced we have a viable alternative. None of the alternatives have convinced so it may be a case of asking one of McGeouch or Leadbitter to sit slightly deeper and try and provide more leadership in defence.

Either way, centre back has to be a recruitment priority for next season regardless of which league we are playing in.

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