An error prone defence, little creativity, and the league’s most expensive striker looking completely useless. These were a few of the tropes that characterised Sunderland’s performances towards the end of last season. A whole summer later, those tropes were still on display for all to see in our opening game against Oxford.
So what’s changed?
Well, that error prone defence now has two new faces in it, in Jordan Willis and Connor McLaughlin. Sadly it didn’t seem to change our fortunes. Still we looked nervous at the back and failed to dominate an average side’s forwards.
A trio of McLaughlin, Willis and Tom Flanagan is too small and too weak. I, and I’m certain many other Sunderland fans, were desperate to see a big, strong, dominant centre back arrive over the summer, but clearly someone missed the memo. We only have a few weeks to rectify that problem, or face being dominated by average League One forwards all season.
That’s not to say Willis and McLaughlin are bad signings. On the contrary they should be excellent players for any League One side. But a team needs balance, and if we are to play a 5’11 centre back, those next to him should be considerably bigger.
At the other end of the pitch we still can’t seem to create much. Poor final balls seemed to be one of the main issues against Oxford but equally whipping crosses of any sort into McNulty and Grigg is kind of a flawed tactic anyhow. They are unlikely to get a sniff if we continue with that.
On top of that, because of Sunderland’s shape, and perhaps our lack of speed, Grigg and McNulty are forced to come deep to collect the ball way too often. And they simply don’t have the pace to get back up the field. Aside from the Shields game, Sunderland haven’t scored a goal from open play in six games. That should be a huge concern for everyone involved.
So adding a big centre back and a quick winger or forward (two things almost every Sunderland fan has been wanting for as long as memory serves) would fix our problems? They certainly might help, but the truth is that we have the best, most expensive squad in the division’s history, along with almost the best facilities available. We should be doing better.
Ross has had two summers now to implement his ideas, but with such little progress and such concerns on the pitch, it’s time that we ask some questions.
Ross should be sat down in front of those to whom he answers and asked to explain a few simple things. Firstly, what did he do over the summer to improve upon last season? It was obvious we needed a lot of work, so what did he do differently to make a change? Secondly, what went wrong against Oxford? It looked an awful lot like the end of last season. Thirdly, and most importantly, what will he change going forward?
Ross has to change something. He cannot continue to be so tactically stubborn when his “ideals” continue to blow up in our face. If his answers to those questions aren’t satisfactory, or if he gets defensive about his choices or arrogant about his own abilities then the board has a big decision to make.
Mistakes are fine - we all make them. But Ross has to start learning from them, and stop repeating them because at the moment he looks incapable of growth.