Embleton proves he deserves a chance at Sunderland
For me the clear stand out performer for Sunderland against Belenenses was Elliot Embleton. Playing alongside Duncan Watmore, the England under-20 international was constantly involved in our attacks. He played some excellent through balls and was unlucky not to score following a brilliant save from the Belenenses substitute goalkeeper.
Embleton provides Jack Ross with a breath of fresh air in my opinion - throughout last season we lacked a player who could play a defence-splitting ball. He was confident with his dribbling, brave with his passing, and if we were more clinical on the attack he would’ve came away with several assists.
After an intense battle to keep him at the Stadium of Light, Embleton is almost like a new signing having spent last season on loan at League Two side Grimsby. He will provide much needed competition to the likes of George Honeyman and Chris Maguire, players whom we need to see more consistency from.
It’s brilliant to see the club hand chances to young players from the academy who clearly have the talent to make it. I see no need for us to go out and spend money on another number ten when we have a player like Embleton with bags of talent who just needs to be given a chance - and, after his performances in Portugal, I would fully expect to see him in the starting eleven against Heerenveen next Saturday.
Jack Ross’ 3-4-2-1 system looks promising
Although we ultimately lost the game, those who watched will frustratingly know we dominated the first half and should’ve went at least 2-0 up.
Jack Ross continuing to use the 3-4-2-1 formation was largely effective until we made wholesale changes. The lads looked fluid - Luke O’Nien and Denver Hume pressed high up the pitch offering width, whilst Duncan Watmore made brilliant runs in behind the Belenenses defence.
Sunderland looked dangerous with Embleton and Watmore standing out, but ultimately the problem (similar to last season) was scoring goals. Our first half domination was let down by the poor finishing of Duncan Watmore, and Will Grigg’s anonymity. It goes without saying that if we are are going to hit the ground running in League One, we need to be more ruthless going forward.
On a positive note, the back three looked relatively strong, with our new signing Jordan Willis standing out with his pace and power. Conor McLaughlin also looks a good fit at right centre-back, and the composure he shows on the ball does give me hope for what he can do in League One next season.
Going forward I’d like to hope that Ross will persist with this formation as, given time (and with further quality additions made to the side), it can be highly effective - we just need to, by hook or by crook, become more clinical in front of goal.
Can Will Grigg start scoring goals for Sunderland?
The most worrying part of pre-season so far for me has been the form of Will Grigg. Our big money purchase at £3m, the Northern Irishman’s underwhelming start to llife at Sunderland has continued, and he’s clearly lacking in confidence.
What frustrates me most with Grigg is how uninterested he sometimes looks during games. His work rate is worrying, and barely makes any productive runs for his teammates to find him. I acknowledge Sunderland are a team who are not creative enough, but Grigg has had chances to score during pre-season and really hasn’t looked like putting them away.
Currently there are no signs that we are looking to sign a new striker, which means it’s a toss up between Grigg and Charlie Wyke to start the game against Oxford. The worrying part is that neither of them have looked particularly sharp so far, which leaves us heading into a new campaign perhaps wondering where the goals are going to come from.
I do hope Grigg can prove me wrong by having a stormer against Heerenveen on Saturday, but the pressure is heavily on him to start justifying his price tag as well as to avoid losing a starting position in the team.