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Roker Roundtable: What were the biggest errors made by Sunderland during this last season?

What were the most costly errors made by Sunderland on and off the pitch during the last season, and where does the blame lie? Our Roundtable of Roker Report writers give their thoughts...

Ian Hodgson

Q: Where do you think the errors from this past season lie?

Tom Atkinson says...

I think it goes without saying that the club has seemingly turned a corner in terms of its financial health and the general sense of community spirit returning to the club. The ownership deserve an immense amount of credit for that.

That being said, losing out on promotion has been incredibly disappointing - I’m sure all will agree.

Ultimately, I think the issue boils down to recruitment primarily, but also partially due to a reluctance on Jack Ross’ part to abandon the fairly conservative tactics that prevented the side from adequately utilizing the goal scoring threat of Will Grigg after he was bought to replace Josh Maja.

Regarding recruitment, the club clearly had a plan to bring in young talent that they could develop à la the Dortmund model. But for whatever reason that did not seem to materialize. Instead, the recruitment department brought in a host of freebies and more experienced players as well as lining in other clubs’ young talent. Ultimately, the recruitment was quite disappointing and arguably prevented Ross from securing promotion.

That is, of course, easy to say in hindsight, but Jack Ross’ conservative approach to games was also something that hurt our chances of promotion, yet could have been altered at any point during the campaign.

During the opening games of the season, Sunderland were methodical in possession, moving the ball well into space before springing quick bursts of play that allowed overlapping full backs or one of the fluid front three to find space in attacking areas.

As time passed by, however, Sunderland seemingly moved away from this possession-based tactic and looked to employ a more direct style of play. Josh Maja’s ability to come deep and recycle possession helped the side immensely before Christmas - losing him was a big blow. However, instead of bringing in a player like Maja - or a genuine number 10 to fill the hole in behind the striker - we relied on George Honeyman, Charlie Wyke and Will Grigg. None have been able to offer the outlet Sunderland need at the point of their attack.

As such, Sunderland became reliant on Aiden McGeady for inspiration, meaning the likes of Gooch and Maguire looked ineffective as the style of play that had done them so well early in the campaign had seemingly been abandoned.

Moving forward both aspects of the club need to improve. Recruitment must be more effective and should also focus on the long-term as well as the short-term. Furthermore, Jack Ross will need to come up with several tactics that allow Sunderland multiple options to ignite their attack.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Harriet Lander/Getty Images

Jack Ford says...

For me, it starts with recruitment, and ends with the management of the squad that we ended up with.

I completely accept that everyone involved had a hell of a job on their hands in the summer, considering we started pre season without enough players to take part in five-a-side, but with the resources we have this could have been greatly mitigated.

For years, all around the club, including Stewart Donald by his own admission, have agreed we sorely need power and pace in the squad.

With the only outfield players over 6ft in the XI being the centre backs, and with no real players that can be considered complete athletes, we would have had to sign some incredibly technically talented players to make up for the deficiency.

Instead, we’ve signed centre halves that have height but seemingly little muscle, and forwards that are neither particularly tall or particularly strong and fast.

In midfield, not only have we added slightly too much age, but we’ve consistently signed overly similar players that lack athleticism and forward-thinking creativity.

The Summer window was always going to be difficult, but to go into January with no clear plan to replace Maja - who was inevitably going to leave - we compounded our woes by signing untested youth in Jimmy Dunne and Kazakh Sterling that again were practically carbon copies of players already at the club.

The signing of Grigg raised morale and should pay off next season, but to spend those millions on one player and not spreading it out over a few first teamers, we put all our eggs in one basket- one with a knacked ankle.

I’ve stated my issues with the manager in the previous Roker Roundtable, and definitely think he’s massively failed to get the most out of our squad, but for me Tony Coton simply has to be replaced as head of recruitment.

If I was Stewart Donald and saw him essentially scouting the League One top scorer list at the last minute, I think I might have sacked him there and then.

We don’t need proper football men in charge of our scouting, but forward thinking talent that matches the approach Ross supposedly takes, using data and thorough scouting to sign hidden gems at good value. Not whoever is available on a free.


Craig Davies says...

No season is perfect. There are always errors, but when your season ends in abject disappointment and with a slew of flat, tedious and interminable performances, those errors seem huge, almost insurmountable.

Yet if we’d beaten Charlton we’d have just about forgiven all of them. Such is life. This season has been reasonably joyous at times and no one can write it off as a complete failure, but our inability to fix or prevent the glaringly obvious problems that have consistently beset us this year have killed off our chances of promotion and put three people in particular under severe pressure.

First our glorious owner Stewart Donald... We know he’s slick and we know he can spin a fine yarn. He and Charlie Methven can transform almost the worst of losses into smooth PR victories.

But it’s tough to spin 5th, zero promotion and docile, idea free football, especially when you’re trying to both keep fans onside and flog season tickets to a pessimistic faithful. But having come from Eastleigh, he’s found the task at SAFC a different kettle of fish altogether and undoubtedly has sometimes came across as naive.

But he’s sharp and intelligent. Successful and determined. He’ll learn from this and hopefully be a better owner for it next season.

Jack Ross has to take a huge slice of the responsibility. He’s failed to find any blend of guile, pace or plan in the latter half of the season and been found wanting. Football in England is hellishly different to the 2nd division in Scotland where its practically part-time. He’s flopped on results. Flopped on performances. Flopped on promotion. Never knew his best centre half pairing or sometimes his best 11. His lack of knowledge of English football and having no experience in League One whatsoever may have cost us in the end.

Lastly, a lot of heat must be laid upon the shoulders of Tony Coton and the recruitment team. We added no pace, no power, no energy. It seemed like a recruitment drive based more on throwing darts blindfolded at a dart board with a few names on it, than an organised, well planned and well executed recruitment drive.

It was painful and cannot under any circumstances be repeated. Gladly, none of the mistakes are terminal and are all fixable. For any of the above 3 to have a long term future at Sunderland, they must be fixed or they won’t last and if they do, it will be painful.

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