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Talking Points: Sunderland need to sign a left back as a priority; Wyke has hit the reset button

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Now that the dust has settled on last night’s win we’re mulling over the key Talking Points - including why Sunderland need to sign a left back as a priority, and the secret behind getting the best from Charlie Wyke.

Rochdale v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Not pretty, but a win’s a win

Sunderland were far from at their best last night down at Rochdale. In truth, I actually felt that the home side probably deserved something from the game, but we held out and ensured that our quality shone through over the course of the ninety minutes.

The defending for the goal we conceded was poor - our midfield went missing as Rochdale passed it around our box, and our goalkeeper got absolutely nowhere near the ball as it flew past him and into the net.

And towards the end of the game Rochdale ramped up the pressure and came close with a number of chances - but, thanks to an improved showing from Jon McLaughlin, we held on and finished the game as victors.

Both of our goals are examples of just how good we can actually play when we keep the ball on the deck. Those moments aside we struggled to build up play and our wide-men struggled to open Dale up on what was a small, compact pitch.

That aside, we have to be happy with the end result. Away from home, against a team in decent form, that’s a very good three points. We are famously slow at starting games well but yesterday we had to graft our nuts off and just make sure we left with the three points - it’s a good basis to build from, particularly with a home game on Saturday against a Wimbledon side who are yet to win this season.

Rochdale v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Sorting out our left back situation is a priority

I feel sorry for Conor McLaughlin, because he’s being played out of position, but his continued selection in that role is hampering us more than it’s helping us.

He’s not a bad defender, but the lack of left-footed players on that side of the pitch is concerning. Last night we had a right-footed left back, a right-footed winger, a right-footed left central defender, and a right-footed left side central midfielder.

That’s not to say that all of them being comfortable on their left peg in completely necessary, but having nobody with a left foot in that full back position restricts what we’re able to do somewhat when going forward.

I felt that Aiden McGeady was isolated higher up the pitch at times and would have benefited from having a left-footer bombing on past him to help create some space and REALLY take advantage of the fact Rochdale had opted to hand a debut to a sixteen-year old at right back. Again, it wasn’t game-changing, but it did highlight the fact that having no senior first-choice left back is not aiding our cause.

Stewart Donald promised a signing was imminent last weekend, and I can’t help but hope that it was a left back that he was talking about. We’ve lost four senior full backs this summer and only signed one to replace them - we’re making do right now, rather than having strength in depth across both positions.

Sunderland v Portsmouth - Sky Bet League One Photo by Iam Burn/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Charlie Wyke has hit the reset button

Last season we saw a totally different version of Charlie Wyke for the most part. He struggled for fitness and when he did play he struggled with confidence. He missed most of pre-season and due to the good form of Josh Maja was unable to get himself a regular run in the side, which in turn hampered his ability to actually get going as a Sunderland player.

I listened to the brilliant Undr The Cosh podcast this week, and something Jon Parkin - a man of similar stature to Wyke in his playing days - said to Neil Shipperley stood out to me. He said that, as target men, they’d struggle to get going if they were ever left out of the team and would never play well in their first game back in the side after a lay off of even a few weeks. In a role that is considered a dying art, target men need consistency in their game-time if you are going to get the best from them.

I suppose that you can apply the same sort of logic to Wyke.

He needs to be given a consistent run in the team playing in his best position to get the best from him. What we’ve seen from Charlie so far this season is that he’s sharp, and keeping him fit and confident is now the key.

When Marc McNulty is back fit it’d be interesting to see how they play together.