McGeouch staking his claim
When the possibility of a move to Aberdeen arose for Dylan McGeouch over the summer he decided to turn the opportunity down, instead preferring to stay with Sunderland and prove himself as more than good enough at this level.
It was a statement by the diminutive midfielder, and a sure sign that he was going to fight to earn his spot as a regular in Jack Ross’s side over the coming season now that Lee Cattermole and George Honeyman have left the club.
And McGeouch’s persistence was rewarded when he was handed a start in the game against Oxford on Saturday, selected ahead of Max Power and Grant Leadbitter as the deepest-lying midfielder in our new 3-5-2 formation.
I was over the moon to see him start, and even more happy that he was able to play as well as he did. For me he was Sunderland’s man of the match and barely put a foot wrong in a performance where pretty much every other player around him struggled to maintain their levels across the entirety of the game.
McGeouch has to be recognised by our manager as the most defensively-solid and mobile midfielder that we have. Last season when he played well he either got injured or was unfairly dropped on the back of good performances, and that cannot be the case this time around.
If McGeouch keeps himself fit and is playing well then he deserves to play in the majority of games, and moulding George Dobson into his perfect partner in the middle should now be the objective for Ross as he tries to fight his way through the various teething issues we’ve seen since he introduced his new tactical system.
Service to strikers was poor
Perhaps the most frustrating, overarching issue I have upon reflecting on Saturday’s performance was our lack of quality in the final third.
Whilst I agree with the opinion held by many that our build up play was often slow and turgid, we did cut Oxford open on more than one occasion when working the ball wide. The problem, however, was that there was absolutely no quality on show when we did get into dangerous positions.
The wastefulness of Denver Hume on the left combined with the sheer lack of effort shown at times by Will Grigg meant that Sunderland didn’t take advantage of the gaps frequently left by our opponents, and the more it happened the more the crowd understandably grew frustrated by what they were seeing.
This is not a new issue, however. Since Josh Maja left Sunderland in January we’ve consistently struggled to create good chances for our expensive forward line, and there’s been very little evidence that suggests that Jack Ross is capable of setting up a team that can put balls on a plate for their centre forwards.
There’s time for that to improve, of course, but the fact Sunderland have not scored a goal from open play since their first game in pre-season against non-league South Shields certainly suggests that whatever Jack Ross is trying to do just isn’t working.
Left back needed
I’m not going to write young full-back Denver Hume off yet because that would be both unfair and unreasonable. Yet, I can’t help but feel that Sunderland’s lack of quality in the final third was in large parts down to our lack of quality in the left wing back position.
Hume has a big future ahead of him but for his own sake he needs to have some quality competition for his spot in the side. As of right now he’s the only left back in the squad and that is obviously concerning, as there’s nobody there that we can put in his place if he’s having a bad game or needs a rest.
Reece James was a very unspectacular player but he never really had a bad game and was good backup. Highly-paid Bryan Oviedo was far too good for this level and would have excelled at wing back, but his wage packet ensured he had to leave this summer. The issue there, however, is that we haven’t really replaced the quality we had in that position last season. And, in this new system, we rely heavily on our creative play coming from the wide areas.
I think Sunderland need to have another full back in place well ahead of the Ipswich game, ensuring we have the best possible chance of taking points from a run of games coming up that will undoubtedly shape our start to the season.