Phil West says...
If we can take anything of value out of Saturday’s game it is the knowledge that, in this battlefield of a league, particularly in the playoff picture, any team can roll over any other team on any given day. After all, we’d been on a good run of results recently, albeit with performances that perhaps weren’t quite altogether convincing, but Portsmouth saw weakness, and they exploited that weakness to full effect.
Fundamentally, we do still lack solidity and stability at the back, especially in the absence of Alim Ozturk. Whilst Parkinson does seem to have established a formation and a system that works, do we have the personnel to make it work, particularly against teams who adopt a direct approach? Joel Lynch had a difficult game, whilst Bailey Wright is clearly still getting himself fully up to speed, something that hindered him badly against Portsmouth. A well-drilled defensive line is a must-have at Fratton Park, and sadly, we were anything but well-drilled on this occasion.
Goalscoring is an ongoing issue for us, too. Parkinson clearly believes that his crop of attacking players, between them, can score enough to get us up, instead of being reliant on one man as our go-to goalscorer, as we used to with Josh Maja. Let us hope that this strategy works, because we clearly cannot rely on any of our strikers breaking double figures between now and the end of the season.
With McNulty gone and Grigg seemingly in exile, it will place far greater emphasis on Lafferty and Wyke as target men, and immense pressure on Maguire, Gooch and Semenyo to finish the chances that come their way, with hopefully the likes of O’Nien and Power chipping in with the odd goal, too.
It’s not ideal, granted, but it’s simply where we are at this stage.
Tom Albrighton says...
I said prior to the game on Saturday that losing to Portsmouth wouldn’t define our season, our reaction to it would.
What we have learned then, in truth, is very little. Our run of form came not too against the grain, beating teams lowly in league stature or of woeful form, flat-track bullying if you prefer. Prior to this (and to some, even during) the usual patterns have remained. We all knew that defensively under Parkinson we have been more sound than before, though we have continued to concede sloppy goals on an almost regular basis - fast forward to Saturday and the same remained. Again, we knew that shots on target haven’t been as plentiful as our score lines would suggest and their becoming a constant feature was to rest heavily on our new found ability to become ruthless in front of goal. Alas, our alarming rate of shot conversion has gained, as have our goals. Again, nothing new.
That isn’t to say nothing can be learned from Saturday’s result, the only concern is that we actually didn’t need Saturday’s result to happen in the first place. Our weaknesses have been clear for a short while now and our lack of rotation has been a concern for many throughout the seasons busiest period. Tired legs and tired minds seemed to be all over the pitch on Saturday, as was players struggling with form.
Examples of which have been strewn across the pitch. Swapping Ozturk out for Lynch, despite Sunderland’s backline looking solid has bewildered many. Not only has Ozturk been wonderfully steady in his no-nonsense approach, but players like Willis have also thrived with Ozturk beside them, whilst somewhat regressing with others. Why was this not remedied this weekend? George Dobson has been on the back of three mundane displays and whilst options in the middle aren’t exactly thriving, is sticking with a player so out of form sensible? Although it feels harsh to say so, in the past week or so even Gooch and Maguire have struggled - looking leggy and out of ideas. Charlie Wyke couldn’t trap a bag of sand, never mind a football and is again woefully out of form, why the persistence now we have other strikers available? The recurring question is these issues that came to a head on Saturday could have been mitigated or altogether avoided, so why weren’t they?
In summary, not a lot has been learned beyond that of many concerns being confirmed. As has been mentioned before though, this is not a time to lace too heavily into a squad who have done well since Christmas, one loss won’t derail our season and whilst the fans may not have learned an awful lot from Saturday’s performance, we must all hope Parkinson has. After all, a rest is as good as a change.