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Fan Letters: Is it time for Sunderland & Jack Ross to have a tactical rethink this summer?

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Does Jack Ross need to prove himself to the Sunderland supporters again this summer, and show that we can play a better, more expansive attacking style of football? Our readers have their say. Email us: RokerReport@Yahoo.co.uk!

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Back in February I wrote to you about my concerns that we would not be able to provide the creative spark to set Will Grigg on fire. Unfortunately my concerns proved to be well founded. It seems that many are ready to write off Grigg (and Wyke for that matter) already, but I think it would be unwise to cast off a player who has proven to be one of the best goalscorers at this level over a number of years.

There has been much debate about formations and clamour for 4-4-2 only to then get overrun in midfield when playing it. Changes in system during a season when using the same players is troublesome, but I hope that Ross is giving some long hard thought about how he wants to play, and what type of players he needs to make it work, while he has a chance to change that.

I believe two up front is the way to go, but perhaps not in a traditional 4-4-2 that we were used to seeing under Reid. All three teams that were promoted from league one this year played mostly with two up front: Luton (Hylton & Collins), Barnsley (Moore & Woodrow) and Charlton (Taylor & Grant/Parker) - however, they also often did not play with traditional out and out wingers, rather with a midfield diamond that enabled them to play 2 up front without compromising the solidity of the middle of the park. Having thought about this for a couple of week, I think that this could work for Sunderland with a couple of key additions.

Let’s assume you have Wyke and Grigg up front, and I would play McGeady at the point of the diamond (the more he sees of the ball, the better). The right and left centre midfielders are not wingers, but tuck in and allow the full backs to give true width when needed, with the insurance of a truly mobile defensive midfielder at the base of the diamond. This “tucked in wide midfield” role could finally be a position that suits Honeyman, who does not seem to be either a 10 or a winger, or a deep centre mid. O’Nien, Power and even Gooch (remember when he played in centre mid) could also be suited to this role.

The problem for me is the base of the diamond, and I think that this is why 4-4-2 didn’t work for us this season. As much as I love Leadbitter and Catts - I am not sure that they have the legs to cover this role adequately enough. Think of the virtuosos in this position, N’Golo Kante, Fernandinho - they never stop moving and appear everywhere. We cant obviously have that quality, but we at least need more mobility.

I personally think McGeouch MIGHT be able to do this role, but there is something odd going on there and I cant see him staying.

I think Hume has a future as an attacking left back, but we need a new right back as I want to see O’Nien back in midfield. Two solid centre backs are a must whatever formation we play. So in summary - I’d like to see us build a team to support our strikers with a 4-4-2 diamond, but we need a mobile central defensive midfielder, two solid centre backs and and attacking right back. Over to you Campbell!

Paul (Chester le Street)

Ed’s Note [Gav]: We have two very good strikers for this level and I think that it would be fair to say that we do not play to their strengths. The 4-2-3-1 we’ve played for much of this season made us hard to beat but not particularly pretty to watch, nor did we win games convincingly, and a solution has to be found.

Personally I’d like to see us play the ‘lopsided 5-3-2’ we utilised in some of the earlier games this season but I’d certainly be up for trialing the diamond 4-4-2, provided we go out and target players who capable of playing the specific roles we’ll need to fill.

I expect next season that Denver Hume will be our first choice left back, and in both systems he’d likely thrive as his best assets are his pace and ability to get forward. On the other side we need a similarly athletic right back who has pace and the ability to beat his man, and in the middle we need height and power. Talking specifically about Luton, they operated with a mobile defensive player (McGeouch is certainly capable, but will be play 40-50 games a season? I have doubts over whether he’s robust enough) and an all-action, combative yet creative number ten in Elliot Lee.

Sunderland don’t really have one of those outside of Chris Maguire, and as great as I feel Aiden McGeady is I don’t think he’d suit the role in that particular system.

Whatever the case may be, I hope Ross has a total rethink about how we set up tactically next season. We didn’t play nice football and often sat back in games where it seemed unnecessary, hence the large amount of draws we garnered during the campaign.

We have the players to play a more expansive style, so why not do it?

Accrington Stanley v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Sunderland AFC

Dear Roker Report,

No way should Jack Ross be sacked.

Stick with him, he has done a fantastic job.

Improve the squad over the summer, and promotion will happen next season. Five new signings required including a commanding centre half, creative midfielder, and a pacey option up front.

Frederick Hamflett

Ed’s Note [Gav]: I wouldn’t agree that he’s done ‘a fantastic job’ but I do think we need to stick with him and allow him the chance to further mould this team into one that he feels fits his ideology as a coach.

We were far too negative last season but part of me wonders if Ross’s cautiousness came as a result of just not always having the players capable of playing in a way where we take the game to teams.

Hopefully with the addition of several players that have pace and height we can enjoy a style of football next season that is not only pretty on the eye, but also achieves results and allows us to win in a more convincing fashion than we became used to in the manager’s first season in charge.

Portsmouth v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Play-Off: Second Leg Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

My opinion is that we can’t wait for Jack to learn by his mistakes.

We let too many teams of the hook and were too negative. League One is all about scoring more goals than the opposition, not parking the bus. The Sunderland defence is not good enough for that. My replacements would be a Kevin Phillips and Peter Reid partnership.

Richard Potter

Ed’s Note [Gav]: I think people really need to get over this romanticist idea that Peter Reid’s management techniques would still work in 2019. He’s never had a job in management in years!

I agree that Jack made mistakes, and that we were too negative. I do wonder whether the lack of variety in the squad made it difficult for us to settle on a style of play, and that as a result Jack leaned on the experience of his squad more and more as he became comfortable being pedestrian.

That said, we need to see what he can do with another summer window.

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

Dear Roker Report,

After years of turmoil the club need a modicum of continuity and stability. To sack Ross would be silly, to appoint Nigel Pearson would be sillier!

Still with Ross, let things settle, another season in L1 allows time to build on last seasons achievement of a near miss. Provides more chance of Championship success by rebalancing the team this year rather than next when the pressure will be greater.

For me, stick with Ross, evaluate his performance at the end of next season which will have tested his ability to adjust the squad.

Alan Blackburn

Ed’s Note [Gav]: Agreed! I didn’t get the Nigel Pearson suggestion either. His last two jobs in management have been underwhelming and he’s hardly a man on the up, nor is he famed for his attacking style of football and affable personality.