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Sunderland need a plan B

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Are Sunderland flexible enough? Do we have a plan B? Rich Speight offers up his thoughts on how Phil Parkinson can learn from the performances and results from the last two games.

Coventry City v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Yesterday, the powers that be at Roker Report asked: “if you could offer Phil Parkinson one piece of advice, what would it be and why?” - an article that you can read by clicking here - and I thought I’d add something to the discussion.

I’m tempted to say that the best piece of advice I could give would be “don’t listen to fans like me who are not professional football coaches, tacticians or statisticians”, but that would be a bit facetious.

Purely as a voice from the terraces who tries to stay reasonably fair-minded, I’d say that we need variety in our patterns of play and to become less predictable in how we both line-up and how we set up.

Opposition managers now know precisely who will be where and what they will be doing. Following a throw in on the right, for example, Maguire, Dobson, Willis and O’Nien will try a series of quick, volleyed passes to draw in defenders and then look to spread the play or exploit the space in behind. We will always lump it up to Wyke bypassing the midfield when in any doubt, and he will back into the defender, and we will not win the loose ball. Our midfield will rarely slide a through ball that unlocks the defence.

Less capable sides still cannot cope with Sunderland’s intensity, fitness and flashes of quality even though they know what to expect in our play overall. Yesterday, however, Coventry looked very comfortable dropping to the edge of their box and letting us give them back possession.

Plan A in a game should vary according to the opposition. 3-2-2-2-1 (as I think Parky’s preferred system might be called) clearly works well most of the time in League One, but it might be that this system is Plan B or Plan C in a game against higher-quality sides.

Simply throwing on all of our forwards in the last twenty minutes when we’re in desperate need of a goal doesn’t appear to me to be implementing a Plan B or C.

It just about worked against Fleetwood, but never looked like working at St Andrews - in the last two games we have had a total of five shots on target. So, personnel changes as well as tactical flexibility will be important and for Parkinson, finding the balance between continuity and renewal is now crucial.

All that said, we have a series of games against mid table opposition coming up and all may be rosy in the garden again by the time spring has truly sprung. The good will built up with the fans is still there; the lads and the manager should gain confidence from having been clapped off the pitch on Sunday despite an underwhelming performance.