Nothing up front. Weak at the back. A game plan which clearly doesn’t work.
Welcome to Sunderland’s season 2019-2020.
Any excitement for the big kick off at the Stadium of Light quickly dissipated as fans discovered that the problems which saw us throw away automatic promotion last season have not been addressed.
It was a familiar scene. The away team grabbed an early goal due to a defensive lapse and then sat back to defend. Easily soaking up our pressure, helped by some abysmal Sunderland decision-making in the last third of the pitch, Oxford were allowed to look dangerous by a tentative defence which looked determined to lose the game.
On that showing we can look forward to season three in League One.
The main culprit was Jack Ross. The players never looked comfortable with the wing back system he decided to use and, looking back, I couldn’t honestly say what formation we were deploying. Was it 4-3-1-2? 4-2-1-1-2? 2-4-2-1-1?
Denver Hume was horribly exposed on a number of occasions, as was the inconsistency of his forward play. Flanagan looked like an accident waiting to happen and Willis failed to stamp any authority on the game. McGeouch was a rare bright spot and Gooch looked busy, but Dobson chased shadows.
Contrary to most commentators I was pretty disappointed with McNulty, who was largely invisible, but everyone is united in wondering what is going on with Grigg. Although there were some terrible attempts to cross the ball we also had a number of good crosses into the box but the strikers failed to attack them. Ross left changes until too late, displaying the same lack of urgency which is coming to define the teams he sends out.
Of course it’s early days. You can’t judge a season after one game and nor can you judge individual players. New players need time to bed in and systems need to be adapted to suit the players on the pitch. The transfer window is still open and the 2020 promotion heroes may well still be out there, waiting for the call to join Sunderland.
However, Jack Ross has been in charge for a year now and are any of us honestly convinced that we are making steady progress in the right direction?
I can’t say I am.
I’ll give him ten games but after that, unless there is a significant improvement and the results reflect that, I’d like to see someone come in who can organise these players effectively to get results.
Two seasons in League One is two too many. We can’t afford to hang around at this level, watching the dross served up on Saturday. Never mind the Premier League, the Championship seems like a long, long way away - and that’s down to you Jack.