For the first time during this promotion run in I’m sat writing this piece questioning whether Sunderland’s mentality is strong enough to emerge victorious in these play-offs. Last night’s performance was utterly horrendous and indefensible, and the confidence of the entire fanbase has taken an unprecedented hit.
Where the best course of action would have been to take these games seriously as we try to build some momentum ahead of the play-offs starting, Sunderland’s manager and players seemingly treated the game with a lack of respect - and we got what we deserved from it.
The opening 45 minutes had the feel of a training game, with neither side playing with intensity, and the second period was up there as the worst half of football that I’ve seen from a Sunderland side in the last two or three years. Fleetwood took full advantage of Sunderland’s lack of care and now because of it we’re sat here deflated and despondent, wondering what course the rest of our season will actually take.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not writing us off, but I’ve stuck by the team even when the results haven’t been satisfactory in recent weeks because we’ve seen enough from those games to suggest we at least have the character to turn it on in the big games. Last night, though, was a massive kick to the gut. There’s now a huge amount of pressure on us to succeed.
For the first time this season I feel let down by the players because I don’t think they put in enough effort - are they already keeping one eye on the play-offs, looking to coast through the remaining games because they know that ultimately they have little baring on our play-off campaign beyond which team we play in the semi-final stage? Who knows.
Whatever the case may be they need to be given a huge dose of reality by not only the manager but the experienced players in the dressing room. Sunderland play in front of the Sky TV cameras on Saturday and need to give a big performance which not only satisfies the supporters but also reminds the other teams in the playoffs of how dangerous we are.
Failing to turn up again will only compound the gut-wrenching feeling we all have this morning further, and nobody wants that going into such an important period.
Can the real Jack Ross please stand up?
I really rate Jack Ross. I think he’s the right man to get behind and allow to grow. I think he’s got all the tools to really succeed here and I think he’s done a decent job since arriving last summer. If I was going to criticise him for anything, though, it’d be for his lack of animation on the sidelines during games.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see the guy running around like a knacker for ninety minutes, but sometimes you want to see your manager really put it across to his players what is expected of them. Last night was so flat that it was unreal.
He may well keep that sort of thing for the dressing room, and that’s his prerogative, but I want to see the guy operate with some fire in his belly. We MUST see a more driven, focused and passionate version of Sunderland on Saturday. The manner of our performance will have a huge baring on the confidence of the fans heading into the most important period in this club’s history - and Ross has a huge part to play in how this all plays out.
He’s also, in my opinion, got to recognise when he’s wrong. The fact we’ve drawn 20 games this season suggests that something about our mentality is wrong, particularly in the latter stages of games. Our tempo dropped yesterday and Ross made substitutions which did nothing to address the fact our performance had fallen flat.
Southend will be well up for it on Saturday as they need to win to secure their safety - will Sunderland’s manager and players be able to match their intensity and prove they’re still good enough to get promoted through the play-offs?
Grigg poor again
I feel like I keep singling Will Grigg out for his performances but it can’t be ignored just how poor he actually was last night at Fleetwood. Early in the game he missed two absolute sitters, which is hard to take but fair enough, but it was his all-round performance in the rest of the game that angered me most.
Someone who I follow on Twitter remarked that he looked lazy and disinterested and I have to say that I agree - and I don’t like accusing players of not giving it their all but Grigg just didn’t challenge enough, run the channels hard enough or give his opponents a tough game.
We keep hearing that he’s not fully fit but if he’s not, why is he starting games? With Charlie Wyke out of the side we needed Grigg to work hard and, well, he just didn’t. He coasted through the game and gave the Fleetwood centre halves very little to do - not really acceptable when you consider that we paid big money for this guy to deliver match-winning performances.
I really want to see him do well at Sunderland but he’s got to start helping himself.