Dear Roker Report,
After the inevitable draw against Portsmouth - draw number 19 - that’s 43% of our games so far. We are in limbo until the end of the season.
We could win or lose out next two 10-0 and we would still be 4th or 5th so we have a couple of meaningless games coming up.
The danger is that following those we have what are possibly some of the most significant games in the history of the club and if we don’t come out on top we could find ourselves in limbo for more than the coming week.
We have an unsustainable wage bill for league one if we don’t get promoted. The owners have been able to bankroll that this season but the club is not awash with money and if we carry much of that cost base into a second season in league one without promotion I suspect there will be some difficult decisions to be made about the medium term ambitions of the club.
If we become a team that cannot get out of this league we will potentially have to make financial decisions that endorse our position as a league one club rather than a club with higher ambitions.
19 draws says it all! No ambition to win just an ambition not to lose.
Jack Ross made the decision this season to go with a “don’t lose” approach. 21 goals in those 19 draws (16 of them were 1-1) that’s 1.1 goals per game. Too late he went with 4-4-2 and in four games we scored 10 goals. That’s 2.5 goals per game!
BUT - we lost one through freakishly bad defending on a day when we scored 4 and by that point in the season he clearly felt we could not afford any more losses.
The season starts again with the first playoff match and this time there will be no forgiveness for trying to defend our way to victory. The manager has to go with 2 strikers in an attacking setup and scare the living daylights out of the opposition or he will carry the responsibility of pushing a great club over the edge into a longer stay in limbo.
Ed’s Note [Gav]: I think you’re perhaps being a tad dramatic, though you make some pertinent points. It’s fairly obvious that even if we go up this will be ANOTHER summer of overhaul - if we stay in League One we’ll have no choice but get rid of the players who are earning Championship (and in some cases Premier League) wages, whilst we’ll also have to replace players who are out of contract with ones of equal or better ability. If we go up then we’d need to significantly strengthen the squad because there aren’t enough players in it who are good enough to play every week in the second tier.
So, either way we can expect a lot of uncertainty, chopping and changing.
There’s a lot of guesswork and the top and bottom of it is that we can’t really delve particularly deep on what the club plan to do next season until we know which league we are in. Right now the focus within the club will be to finish the season strongly and then, if it goes the way it looks to be going, have a real go at winning the play-offs.
I think the evidence speaks for itself - Sunderland have drawn far too many games and that could well be the deciding factor in if we go up or not. I’m not entirely sure that we can attribute the amount of them to any one thing though because so many of those draws have been under varying circumstances.
I feel more often than not that Sunderland have played on the front foot but have ultimately been let down by their defending. I also think we recruited poorly in both windows and that has led to us failing to compete in some games. We lack pace and height in a few positions and had we had those options we’d probably be sat on top of the league. I also think injuries to key players at unfortunate points in the season hasn’t helped, although the argument that the squad SHOULD have been strong enough certainly holds weight.
Fact is though that despite spending a lot of money for a club at this level we haven’t actually got the right type of players necessarily.
Dear Roker Report,
I think we can all agree that the last few weeks have been a huge disappointment in our season if not our history. We have on so many occasions this season been in a really strong position to kick on but have failed.
Whether that be in games like Wembley or the numerous times we have been in front in games and tossed it away, or when we have been in a really strong position in the league and blown it.
From my point of view I thought we started the campaign well. I enjoyed the way Ross worked, changing things early, recognising where problems were occurring and then addressing them sometimes before or after half time.
This suddenly changed and I believe this is why our season has fallen apart.
When Ross came there was an interview with him where he said he didn’t draw games, he either won or lost as that was his style, going for it, well that isn’t true is it. If he had done and we’d lost 2 or 3 and win 2 or 3 more we’d of been virtually up now.
The manager has to be asked questions with the resources at hand why he hasn’t smashed this league and why has his approached changed when it didn’t need to.
Strangely enough it seems to have coincided with the goalkeeping coach leaving who apparently everyone enjoyed having around.
Did he have Jack Ross ear, did he influence changes from the bench. I don’t know but something changed.
We are now in the playoffs and as one who’s been to Wembley now six times and never seen us win, I won’t be there this time due to a family engagement I can’t get out of. If I’m honest I’m glad as watching us lose again at Wembley in the playoffs in this division will be unbearable.
Writing this has put me in a downer so god knows what reading it is like but it’s still in Sunderland’s hands. Win 3 more games in the playoffs and we go up. However before that happens the manager and players have got to look at themselves.
I would suggest in the last 2 games we go 3 at the back and 2 up front in readiness for the playoffs. Try something different Mr Ross as what your doing is not working, go for it win or lose not draw as you stated in your original interview.
Ed’s Note [Gav]: You’re right about how Ross approached things early in the season - he seemed to react quickly to obvious issues and more often than not his subs paid off. I think over time though he’s learned a lot about his players and their weaknesses.
Having to accommodate Aiden McGeady and Josh Maja in the side because they were our best players meant that he had to knock the high pressing game he’d implemented on the head, and then as it became clearer that our defence simply wasn’t good enough it meant we couldn’t get away with taking as many risks in midfield as we perhaps might have wanted to.
I think it’s obvious to anyone who has watched us this year that Ross had made mistakes from time to time but that’s only natural really. Even if we completely balls up the play-offs and don’t go up I’d stick by him. I see people talk all the time about the fact the overhaul we’ve seen at Sunderland in the last twelve months has been huge and, as Michael Briggs in this morning’s Fan Letters pointed out, it might actually just be that because so much has changed in such a short period that we simply aren’t ready to make that step up.
Ultimately we have to just wait and see how the next few weeks play out.