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Fan Letters: “The fans have done their bit, now the Sunderland players need to show some balls!”

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“The fans have done their part this season and it’s time the players showed some balls and start playing for ninety minutes” writes RR reader Mark Wild in this afternoon’s Mailbag. Email us: RokerReport@yahoo.co.uk!

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Dear Roker Report,

I’m sorry to say Jack Ross is way out of his depth even in this league - totally inept with tactics and his insistence in playing Gooch, Honeyman and an unfit Grigg.

It just beggars any understanding of football.

Bob Edwards

Ed’s Note [Gav]: I wouldn’t say that Ross playing certain players makes him way out of his depth, and think how he shapes his squad this summer will indicate whether he actually sees something in these players or whether he’s ruthless enough to trim the fat and bring in better players in their place. And to be fair to him, all three of those players were dropped in recent weeks. Gooch has rightly been left out up until changes were necessary, Honeyman was benched in the last game and Grigg has had to miss out while Charlie Wyke was the man leading the line.

I’ll be honest, the Grigg situation baffles me. The only people who seem to be talking about the fact he’s injured are the fans. How bad is it? If he’s starting games then it can’t be that bad, so does the excuse wash? I thought when we signed him in January that he’d come and score a load of goals but he hasn’t. I’m on the fence with him.

Tactically is where I think you have the biggest cause to criticise Ross. I’m not really sure what the issue is but the sheer amount of games we’ve drawn - and how many of those games were drawn from winning positions - suggests that we’re reserved when taking the lead... and not particularly good at sitting back.

Ultimately though I won’t personally try and break the season down until it’s actually over. I think the managers and players need to be allowed to focus on winning the play-offs, which of course is still a very attainable goal. Just cross every single finger and toe...

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

The fans have done their part this season and it’s time the players showed some balls and start playing for ninety minutes.

Twenty one points this season dropped from winning positions is not good enough - in so many games they only perform for one half. What the hell is Ross telling them at half time?

The Portsmouth game was a prime example - I did not see any urgency from the players to win this game. We need more passion from the players - for God’s sake we had 41,000 there and again they let the fans down.

The time has come for the likes of Grigg, Leadbetter and Power to start performing.

Lets stick with a settled defence every game - it’s chop and change, this has to stop.

And all this negative play - I don’t no how many times the ball should have gone into the box at Fleetwood but players make the wrong decision and it goes back to the keeper.

Now is the time to throw caution to the wind and go for it, another season in this league is unacceptable and we the fans do not deserve this, especially the support the club has had this season. Jack Ross has to crack the whip now and start to get these under performing players playing.

Mark Wild

Ed’s Note [Gav]: The pressure is certainly on now that we know our fate lies in the play-offs. I just hope that pressure isn’t too much and acts against us. Because a fair portion of not only our own supporters but fans of other clubs and the wider media expected Sunderland to go straight back up, it means everyone is sat expecting us to perform.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I’ve supported Sunderland for over 50 years and am disappointed at how difficult it is to maintain enthusiasm for the club. Years and years of false dawns giving that glimmer of hope that only leads to shattering disappointment has been the ever recurring theme. Hope is the killer because, without that, the expectations are lowered and the disappointments fewer. This is not unique to Sunderland fans, and I genuinely believe that the majority of football fans are basic pessimists fearing the worst before their games, but few sets of fans can have been so regularly let down as we are. However, credit to the multitudes that keep coming back for more, as no much as one might want to, a true supporter cannot get Sunderland out of their blood.

That said, it is so easy for that passion and hope to over-ride the reality of a team’s ability and position. I thought Andrew White’s letter was excellent and identified a lot of valid issues surrounding the current squad and manager. It is difficult to argue with much of what he says, particularly after such an abject capitulation the other night, but should we be surprised? Just six games ago we had automatic promotion in our own hands, hope was growing, Netflix 2019 was going to reflect our glories after the heartaches of 2018, everything was on the up – perfect conditions for fans hopes and expectations to be dashed yet again. Build them up to knock them down – that should be the club motto.

However, the reason for this preamble is not to knock the team or club, but to try to look at our position in a very practical and realistic way. Manager, fans and media are all talking about how we need to pick ourselves up for the play-offs, win at Southend to build momentum, set up to win instead of to not be beaten. Some are suggesting we’re finishing in our lowest position ever so sack the manager. Others argue we were a total shambles when he took over (true) and at that time we would have taken play-offs without question, so surely a success so far and let’s go for it.

I would argue, like Andrew, that I would rather see a team set up for winning rather than ‘not losing’ so this has been yet another frustrating and unrewarding season but it is a start of a building process and to avoid defeat is the first step in building a team that can then go on to win matches.

Unfortunately, I do not believe we have the squad or financial resources for Ross to compete successfully in the Championship, yet. I’m sure he’s learnt a lot from this season and another season in League One, with time to put together his squad built around players he has put in place that really do play for the shirt (something we’ve been lacking for years), and we can storm the league next year, enjoy wins instead of draws and really push on. I see the alternative, should we squeeze through the play-offs as a season of struggle and mediocrity as the bulk of this squad are simply not good enough for the Championship, and we can’t afford the money (or time) for Ross to get enough quality in to be competitive.

In summary, disappointing and hurtful as it would be, I believe losing the play-offs as early as possible would be a blessing in the long run. Much like losing to Oxford was in 1998, which despite the heartache of Gray’s missed penalty, set us up for one of our most enjoyable and memorable seasons ever. Oh for a season like that!

Peter Minchell

Ed’s Note [TA]: Interesting take, Peter! A great letter with a lot of interesting points. Thanks for writing in. I agree we need to show ambition on the pitch in the remaining games, but the whole topic of the pros and cons of promotion is a tricky one that is difficult to fully gauge at present.

On the one hand, promotion would undoubtedly be a positive, and I’d love to see who we could bring in to improve the side - you’d be looking at needing five quality reinforcements at the very least. Would our recruitment department be savvy enough to find said personnel at a fair price? They’ve struggled somewhat this season, so it’s a big if. But still, going up would be a huge positive and I think the Lads could definitely do a good job of it should we secure some quality reinforcements.

Should we fail to find promotion, we might have a chance to regroup and strengthen; however, you could also argue that there’s a chance we might not have the clout or resources to adequately improve the side. It’s a tough balancing act.

Ultimately, I think the simple issue that needs addressing no matter the league we are in is our lack of physicality, athleticism, and pace. Finding the balance of flair and physicality, in my opinion, is the missing component required to realize that ever elusive realization of hope that you mentioned in your letter.