Q: Sunderland failed to score in either of their games in Portugal, with all three of our senior forwards - Duncan Watmore, Will Grigg and Charlie Wyke - missing relatively simple chances to put the ball in the back of the net. Are you concerned about potentially going into the season with a toothless attack, or do you prefer not to read too much into pre-season results and performances?
Damian Brown says...
Pre-season or otherwise we have a glaring issue with our forwards, or rather our distinct lack of them. I don’t tend to read into friendlies, seeing the Portugal trip as something more akin to warm weather training than any kind of serious or competitive endeavour, but I’ve held these concerns since midway through last season and nothing has been done to allay them so far.
It’s a big issue. It’s been said by some that Ross doesn’t provide an outlet for his strikers; that service is limited from their fellows on the pitch, and as a result they don’t have enough opportunity to score.
I think this theory is understandable but flawed, because at this stage in their careers those strikers should be capitalising on the opportunities that are provided to them which, as evidenced in the last two games, isn’t an insignificant amount.
The suggestion that it’s the tactics that are hindering the strikers also falls foul of Maja’s goalscoring record in an identical or at least very similar system. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that if we hadn’t sold Maja to pay off a debt, we would likely have taken automatic promotion. That’s what happens when you have a natural goalscorer on the team.
I don’t rate Wyke, Grigg’s form has a massive question mark hanging above it and Duncan Watmore, for all that he busts a gut, simply isn’t a good striker. Missing sitters and failing to recognise scoring opportunities are not the hallmarks of a striker.
It’s clear to me that we’re in need of that elusive figure: the proven goalscorer.
The issue here is that Will Grigg is a proven goalscorer, judged by all accounts, and that lends weight to the claim that Ross needs to set up in a way that brings the best out of his players. But in pre-season so far we’ve witnessed opportunities squandered by the attack as Ross does his best to tinker with the system. It could be a case of breaking the duck and watching the floodgates open, such things are possible. But if the issue runs any deeper than a casual, traditional drought that can be shaken off with a bit of a can-do attitude, that’s a lot to gamble promotion on.
What do we do about it? Who do we bring in? Questions for the recruitment team, and ones they should be asking themselves at this very moment if we’re serious about not hanging around in League One for the foreseeable future.
Phil West says...
I’ve always viewed pre-season games as more of an exercise in shaking off any rust, trying out new formations and tactics, and getting mileage into the legs of our players.
Reading too much into these friendly matches is always risky. We’ve had plenty of good pre-season results in years gone by that have promptly been followed by a dreadful start to the season, so the fact that we haven’t destroyed any of the teams so far has not, for me, set alarm bells ringing.
That being said our lack of goals can’t be overlooked - not least because, when it comes to our ‘main main’ Will Grigg, question marks continue to hover over his fitness and, most worryingly, his attitude.
Is his head down? Does he look up for the challenge of leading our line this season? I hope he is. The lad has a superb chance to become the focal point of our attack and his record at this level, as we all know, is undisputed.
Charlie Wyke, on the other hand, remains less of a concern to me. I’m convinced his role as an no-nonsense target man will remain unchanged this season.
Duncan Watmore, largely due to his injury record, remains something of an unknown. Is there a prolific scorer in there? Can he finally make this season ‘his’ season, and be the missing link that our attack has been crying out for? I’d like to think so, but until we see him playing in the intensity of a league game, it’s almost impossible to gauge where he actually is.
Oxford is looming large, and the objective this season is clear. Another striker purchased would be ideal, but if not, our current attackers must step up and carry the baton themselves.
Chris Wynn says...
I’ve never taken pre-season friendlies as much to go off for the upcoming season.
I might possibly note if a particular player looking sharp, or how a new signing is fitting in, but generally I’m doubtful that it will give any indication of how the season will pan out once it gets serious.
However, the situation we find ourselves in at the moment with our forward line is worrying.
The pressure is on Grigg and Wyke to get the goals we need to get us back to the Championship, especially after their record last season. I’m not going to necessarily include Watmore in this issue as he’s never been expected to be among the goals when fit and I don’t see that changing.
The concern is that our front two have not shaken off their poor form in taking the chances, or half chances which I’d expect them to be doing considering their records. We can balance this concern, by the fact that we’re creating chances. That would be the bigger issue. We didn’t create a huge amount last season and to be fair the front two fed off scraps a lot of the time.
It does also raise the prospect of a third striker to join Wyke and Grigg which is something I think Ross should be looking at before the window closes. I’d like to someone with a bit more pace that can stretch the game and get defences dropping ten yards as they’re worried about the space in behind. It would give us an extra dimension and a different option to change the dynamic of a game.
Otherwise, we have to hope Grigg and Wyke can handle the pressure of scoring enough goals, and being the threat, where we don’t have to rely on McGeady to pull something out the hat - which is ultimately what led us to another season in League One.