Q: Sunderland achieved their first clean sheet of the season on Wednesday, with Lee Burge, Joel Lynch and Laurens de Bock all impressing. What would your back five (gk + defence) be v MK Dons, and why?
Damian Brown says...
I’ve been waiting to condemn Jack Ross after he has a full squad at his disposal, as glum as his tactics have made me sometimes. Though I’m as emotive as the next man - and guilty of the same knee-jerk reactions to troubling circumstance - I’ve demonstrably withheld my final judgement, for whatever it’s worth, on Ross and his importance to Sunderland as a manager, as much as I could, and that is based almost solely on the knowledge that he has players waiting in the wings to make an impact. Academy players; not-quite-yet-ready recruits; overlooked old-hands. I’m firmly of the opinion that when the gaffer knows his team it will become suddenly apparent.
De Bock and Lynch have been late additions readying themselves for the task at hand and have, by all accounts, shown themselves on Wednesday night to be worthy of the duty.
Could that in itself be an example of Ross’s tactical acumen? Protecting these (currently) promising reinforcements, knowing that they can and will make the difference, but only when he decides they’re ready to be thrown into the fray? I’d hope so. If we can tar Ross with the broad brush of incompetence based on a pretty decent return of points so far this season, I’d bloody well hope we can consider giving him the level of kudos when these Premier League “upsets” come about.
Regardless of how much credit any one individual deserves, the back line we’re used to seeing is clearly waiting to be reinforced. Often, Jack Ross is accused of doing things we might not understand, but if he was waiting for his chance to do the right thing, couldn’t this be a precursor to his making that choice?
Time will tell. I wouldn’t put it past the manager to make the changes that would best benefit the team based not only on the result against Sheffield, but the broad array of decisions he’s made, that may have confused and confounded us and the players themselves, but from which he could easily learn, finally, who his best eleven players are.
Chris Wynn says...
The only difficult decision after Wednesday’s cup game is who starts between the sticks.
Conor McLaughlin needs a run in his natural role at right back to get his season going. He was defensively solid at Bramall Lane and I think he’ll improve given a run in the team.
Joel Lynch was impressive considering it was his first game for a long while and he’s finding fitness. Alongside Flanagan you would think Lynch had been here over a year and it was Flanagan still finding his feet. Lynch carried Flanagan in his debut and just looked like he knew what he was doing all night.
As long he’s fit to play so soon after his debut I’d have no problems putting him straight into the side. If he continues in that form or even improves he’ll make a huge difference.
Alongside side him Willis is a no brainer, and I think he’ll be relieved to get a reliable partner at the back. On the left De Bock gets the nod for me. Seeing both De Bock and Hume operate down the left at the same time highlighted how much comfortable on the ball is than Hume and there seems a jump in class between the two. It’s only one game, but considering Hume’s last performance at Bolton and De Bock looking solid, the new boy gets the nod.
As I said, between the sticks is the tough one and I’d go for Burge. I thought he was excellent at Sheffield United and has been throughout the cup run so far. He bailed Flanagan out when he executed a trademark sloppy pass across out eighteen yard box, flying off his line at the feet of the striker and this was one of a few impressive saves.
He also has a huge drop kick on him which won the corner leading to our goal. With Wyke up top this caused headaches for the Premier League side and I could see that being a useful tool in our armoury.
The other consideration is that four of that five were involved in our first clean sheet tonight - put Willis in there and we could finally have the base at the back we’ve been lacking for a while.
Mark Carrick says...
MK Dons roll into town, but surely the win on Wednesday night provides Sunderland with a level of confidence... and Jack Ross with a selection headache.
Lee Burge was outstanding at Bramall Lane. Big hands to save a couple of early United efforts, good positioning to collect long range efforts, great vocals to command his box and take crosses. His distribution got us up the pitch and, by and large, accurately found a teammate.
Given that Jon McLaughlin has had wobbles, by his own high standards, and is yet to keep a clean sheet, Burge must be knocking on Ross’ door as a more than viable option to start on Saturday.
De Bock and Lynch came into the side and let no-one down. De Bock was solid, simple in his approach, effective and efficient. Lynch was physically imposing, read the game very well and didn’t give Sheffield United’s multi-million pound strike-force a sniff for large periods of the game. Naturally left-footed, he brings balance to the defence too.
At right-back, Conor McLaughlin looked the player we signed in pre-season. Far more composed, alert and, like De Bock, did the simple things well, which contributed to our first clean sheet of the season.
If Burge vs McLaughlin is a tough call (personally I’d stick with Burge on Saturday), these three defenders should be a simple call for Ross. The fact Willis can replace our weak link in Flanagan would be the only change I’d opt to make. Willis’ pace and positional recovery would compliment Lynch very well. Not many centre forwards would fancy facing such a physical and then quick pair.
Tom Albrighton says...
Thanks to Sheffield United the decision has been made. In truth its a decision that should have been made more than a week ago, especially regarding our keepers. A solid pre-season and some strong cup performances coupled with Jon McLaughlin’s poor form means the keeper situation is cut and dry. Burge is a strong shot stopper, with a far greater command of his area and he is unafraid to come to meet a cross. It’ll take some pressure off the centre backs when it comes to dealing with crosses, as well as a quicker and more accurate distribution. Burge has earned his chance and I have no doubt he’ll take it.
Right back, however, isn’t as simple. O’Nien, for all a trier, isn’t defensively solid and is a far better midfield option. We wont progress this season with O’Nien at right back. That said, Conor McLaughlin isn’t a great right back either on showings we’ve seen so far, although by all accounts he was far more settled on Wednesday night. I don’t know a lot about MK Dons but I don’t think they’ll have a player capable of providing McLaughlin with a stern test for a Northern Ireland international, so by virtue of needing O’Nien in midfield, McLaughlin gets the nod.
Left back is a lot easier for me - it’s Denver Hume. Some suspect performances have been tempered by some good ones, and there is little denying his obvious potential. Hume, for me, has been decent this season and we have to stick by young players, even when they make mistakes, as this is part of their learning curve.
My only worry with Hume is how often he finds himself exposed, a constant focal point for opposition attacking play, Hume needs help and cover, something he gets rarely, if at all, with McGeady.
Centre backs have to be Willis and Lynch. By all accounts Lynch was an imposing figure at the back, strong in the air and comfortable on the ball, something we’ve been screaming for. Willis hasn’t done much right this season, he hasn’t done much wrong either though. He’s a player who in stages has looked a class above but has also been found wanting at times, but he has also been laboured with some less than favourable partnerships and scenarios (Flanagan and three at the back) so if Lynch performs, we could see the beginnings of a much more certain centre back partnership.
Of course, this all fades into nothing if we fail to get ourselves on the front foot and not keep the ball on the floor. As a team we’re much more comfortable and often superior when the ball is played along the floor, so regardless of who plays across the back four, this has to be Jack Ross’ main priority.