During the summer one area of the team that desperately needed attention was our midfield. At the time, we were overloaded in this area, with too many players of a similar nature and not enough space to accommodate them. It was obvious that some tough decisions needed to be made in order to bring the finances even further into line, but also to reshape the squad and prepare for a second crack at League One.
And so Lee Cattermole departed, and then, following months of absurdly overblown criticism, George Honeyman bade farewell to the club that he had led to two Wembley finals. One was borne out of financial necessity, the other had an aura of ‘it’d be best for everyone if he moved on’ about it.
So, after the transfer window’s comings and goings, how are we shaping up in such a crucial area of the pitch?
Our midfield is now much more streamlined than it was, but crucially we have not been stripped of too much quality. As sad as the Honeyman and Cattermole departures were, they did allow us to break what was something of a logjam. The picture is clearer now, albeit not 100% settled, and our options are now plentiful as opposed to overstocked.
What of the individual players? Starting with George Dobson and Max Power, they have rarely let the team down when called upon. I like Dobson’s physicality and his composure on the ball, whilst Power, although somewhat hit and miss, does bring some doggedness and some bite to the engine room. Should he continue to develop, Dobson could be the anchor around which we build our midfield for several seasons to come, and is possibly a future Sunderland captain to boot.
The biggest questions marks, for me, are hovering over the heads of Dylan McGeough and Grant Leadbitter. Will McGeough, as skilful and talented as he is, ever be given a run of games and the chance to cement himself as a key player? He has good vision, skill on the ball, and crucially, can get things moving by playing crisp passes out wide or into the feet of our strikers. Were Ross to place 100% trust in him, I’m convinced that he would deliver more often than not. In an ideal world, as I have eluded to before, Dobson and McGeough would be my go-to midfield duo; a good mixture of power and guile.
Leadbitter is another major conundrum. Has Jack Ross boxed himself into a corner by giving him the captaincy, despite the widely-held belief that he doesn’t have the spark needed to dictate games effectively? Yes, he is experienced and has a deep-seated connection with the club and its fans, but if we are to seize the upper hand in games and to play a more dynamic style of football, we need to up the tempo, and Leadbitter simply doesn’t have the energy in his legs to do that. That is not meant as a criticism, merely as a fact, and indeed, as a squad player, Leadbitter will have a key role to play, particularly as the winter draws nearer, fixtures pile up, and injuries inevitably bite.
Our midfield is by no means perfect, but it is undoubtedly improving. If we can keep the supply lines to our strikers in good working order, whether out wide or through the middle, as well as maintaining some physical dominance when games descend into physical battles, we’ll be in good shape, and how Jack Ross makes best use of the resources available will be key moving forward.