Q: Now that the dust has settled on Saturday’s performance... what’s your gut feeling on where Sunderland are at right now?
Tom Atkinson says...
Despite not winning the game - which is an obvious negative - I honestly thought that the Lads showed enough on Saturday to suggest that things are improving.
Considering we have several key playmakers injured or not fit enough to start, I thought the team - and Marc McNulty in particular - looked threatening in spells. These are new combinations that require time to gel, but there were several passages of play that gave me confidence moving forward.
In midfield, I thought Dylan McGeouch was tremendous, and although Dobson looked shaky at times, his athleticism and desire to get up and down the pitch was plain for all to see.
There were several things that did concern me, however. One major issue is that defensively we still looked unconvincing. I am willing to put that down to opening game nerves, but it must improve sooner rather than later. We looked the most promising when the defensive trio played easy balls into McGeouch and Dobson - the aimless punts simply have to stop as they invited pressure and encouraged the opposition to press higher up the pitch.
Secondly, our final ball has to improve. Denver Hume took a lot of stick on Saturday; a lot of it was harsh in my opinion, but his delivery into the area was quite poor, if truth be told, and the same can be said of Lynden Gooch. Why we were lobbing balls into two forwards under six feet tall was baffling. On a similar note, Elliot Embleton needs to involve himself more. He showed some nice touches - two of which led to threatening moments - but he needs to assert himself more going forward. I get these are young lads in the early stages of their careers, but there is always room for improvement.
I understand there is pressure on Jack Ross, and I get that fans wanted to see a dominant performance, but I do think this team needs a bit of time to gel. Only a couple of players started in the play-off final and less than that started the opening game of last season.
Furthermore, we have adopted a brand new system that will need some work in order to maximise it’s effective. I’m not suggesting we relax expectations this season, but I do think this group need a handful of games to really find their feet and get into their stride.
We should be winning this league, of course, and the next 5-6 games will give us a better idea of whether this team and manager are capable of that. In the meantime, let’s get behind the Lads and help them win.
Craig Davies says...
After sixty games, three transfer windows, the biggest budget and highest player salaries in League One history I think we could have expected more from a Jack Ross side after last season’s disappointments. Some marginal improvements at certain spots throughout a largely underwhelming game don’t quite fill me with the optimism I was hoping for.
But, it’s the first game of the season and we’re notoriously slow starters so normally I would simply put the jarring start down to opening day nerves. However, despite having such a different team in terms of personnel, I was amazed to find the same problems as last season have emerged among an almost different set of players, which for me was worrying.
The final ball, like last season, was largely negligible. The pace of the game was ponderous and predictable. Will Grigg appeared jaded and uninterested, like last season. Either we haven’t found a system to work for our star player (which Ross is responsible for not unearthing) or we signed an expensive dud whose legs have gone - and neither of those scenarios fill me with hope.
There were some signs of green shoots. McNulty’s energy, McGeouch’s steadiness, Dobson’s honest work rate. I do admire McGeouch but I’m not one to orgasmically quiver at his tidiness or stand amazed that he can pass. But he was probably our best player on Saturday.
But the defence looked as wobbly as last season and we didn’t create enough and didn’t look dangerous enough. We looked like a side who will collect another twenty-odd drab and tedious draws this season.
Last season teams allowed us lots of possession in irrelevant areas of the pitch, knowing we weren’t dangerous enough to hurt them, and then would hit us on the break with the knowledge our defence panics under pressure. I didn’t see a lot different on Saturday.
I’m not one for sacking managers or pressing the managerial panic button. I want Ross to stay and be successful - but the next six games are crucial for his future here.
We need to show a lot more than ‘we looked alright in spells’ to keep the wolves from his door. Hopefully we will. Hopefully our big guns will return and fire us to glory. Hopefully Grigg will unlock his long lost confidence.
There is a long way to go in the season for certain, but Jack Ross does not have long amount of time to turn our hopefullys into certainties.
Chris Wynn says...
Saturday’s performance was a typical Sunderland paradox - it was different, yet it was exactly the same. It felt we generally had a bit more purpose and a bit more attacking intent which is encouraging, but let down by defensive lapses.
Flanagan looks the same player that was poor in the latter half of last season, so I’m not quite sure what warrants a starting place. I thought the system might help him out but between himself and Hume we looked severely exposed on our left hand side. I wasn’t convinced about Hume last season but enough people were talking up his quality that I thought I was missing something, I still don’t get it.
I’m more than willing to give him the time he needs - he’s a young lad in his first full season and in a new position so he needs time - hopefully I’m proved wrong and he has a great season.
Our midfield was promising and we have Dobson in there who could be offered the excuse of being here for two minutes, and we also have other options to potentially come in if he doesn’t find his feet.
Up top is where my concern is at the moment. McNulty looked lively but Grigg - although he was feeding off scraps - didn’t go looking for it when it wasn’t coming to him.
The other aspect of the game was the early Oxford goal. Again, this was clearly a fault of our defensive setup, it completely changed the game. If we’d had time to settle it may have been a different game. We’ll soon find out in the next couple of weeks.