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Rotherham United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One

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Fan Letters: ‘Here we go again - another collapse against a side we really should get past’

There’s a wide range of reaction to Saturday’s defeat in today’s mailbag! Email us:

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Someone once said that youth would never win anything. Inexperience would, over the course of a season, lose too many tight games or games where conditions were extreme.

This would seem to be true for SAFC atrocious conditions and a physical opposition leading to heavy defeats.

However, if lessons are learned and the management strong, talent will prevail.

I’ve watched Sunderland for 57 years now and never been more excited by the quality of home grown talent coming through.

Is Johnson up to the task? Ferguson was.

Ian Mudd

Ed’s Note [Martin]: We’ve got a very promising squad Ian, with a number of players who, in my view, will play the majority of their careers higher than League One level. Taking this approach is going to bring with it some ups and downs – the latter as we saw on Saturday. But hopefully they’ll learn from those experiences, and we’ll reap the rewards of that sooner rather than later!

Crewe Alexandra v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Dajaku is one of a number of players who are learning on the job
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I don’t get to as many games as I would like, living in Kent, but it has been useful for me to be able to make my own assessments since Gillingham. This is my home game of the season (thank goodness I only have to go once each season it really is a poor run down ground).

Gillingham 1 -2 Sunderland:

Although we won the game admirably and came out of the game with a fair bit of credit because, before Embleton’s sending off in second half we were more like the side we’ve grown to know and Gills struggled to cope with us. Firmly believe we would have probably got a third in that game had EE not departed the scene!

The 1st half though was a mess as we were unable to get any rhythm or fluidity to our game. We were unsettled by them… And all the rough stuff. They started game with about 4 of the team had starred in “Land of the Giants” tv series of all those years ago. Then they replaced like for like and added more later in the game!

So, this was an extremely physical side, applied significant shit-housery and ongoing disruption tactics that we expect from a Steve Evans teams. With a pretty (pardon pun) direct style of play. Quality of footballing ability I am going to categorise as “LIMITED”.

LJ rocket at halftime clearly did trick and I don’t think I have been prouder of a Sunderland team for its resoluteness in those last 20-25 minutes in a game I have been at, for a hell of a long time. Some of our lads, while battered and bruised, felt enormous pride individually and collectively as they came off that pitch and we were singing deliriously!

These young boys like Cirkin, Doyle, Neil and co stood tall and strong and the experienced players helped them through.

Conclusion: Great big tick as, after Pompey water polo, we needed a performance and result like we got in second half. Unattractive as it was in the main, my wife who doesn’t come along very often agreed that in previous seasons we would have lost this game.

Crewe 0-4 Sunderland

Listened as always when cannot attend game or not on Sky…not the most physical side and have a history of playing football which seems how it panned out.

Conclusion: Our footballers, while not at top of their game, were better than what Crewe have. To be expected but not taken for granted. League positions reflect result.

Excellent to get two away wins on the spin in the League after Pompey, leaving you thinking, puts us in a good place ahead of a potentially challenging as well as important set of fixtures…

Sunderland 0-1 Charlton

Attended game. Won’t say much as well documented for the worst set of officials but from very first 20 seconds, player running through back of 09, Charlton showed what their part of the day was going to be like. The fact the referee at no point during the game, had a desire to nip anything of time-wasting or challenges etc in the bud gave them even more bravado!

But, Charlton can play football when they want, they have far better players in general than Gillingham (and league position is going to improve) but while the Giants aren’t as Giant as GIlls, they have players who can put it about, big experienced men and they are also very good at the shit-housery side of the game.

Basically a considerable upgrade on Gillingham.

I met up with a fair few Charlton players on way home in Costa on Platform 4 of Newcastle central and had a good chat while making my points about what I thought about them, and two of them replied “that was a big part of our instructions today”… I wasn’t at all surprised to hear it but it just affirms what was obvious!

We had moments in the game but never really got going. Charlton had pace on their right hand side and Leko gave young Dennis possibly his toughest test so far. The way they cramped/smothered Dan Neil out of the game and bullied 09 out of it….

They unsettled us and were in our faces so quickly. This should have been anticipated I think.

Conclusion: after standing up to Gills in such a heroic manner, the extra bit of quality on the ball that Charlton have as well upgrade on the execution of shit-housery tactics. Plus the ref. These young lads especially must be getting a little battle weary, rather than battle hardened?

Note: It was very disappointing that Denver Hume had to come off injured in QPR game, and so early. Young Dennis Cirkin who I think has been outstanding and an upgrade on DH, may be getting a bit shell-shocked as had a very busy night on Tuesday. Mentally, physically and emotionally draining couple of weeks for him. That’s just CIrkin!

Rotherham 5 - 1 Sunderland

How the hell?! This hurts to just write down that scoreline!

I could only listen to the game. Sort of thankful for that and 100% respect for those that went – but especially those who stayed till the end. The very fabric, heart and soul of what our football club is about.

From the commentary I am left in no doubt whatsoever that from teams we have played so far in League One, Rotherham are the best team in this division.

They have the best mix of players. Power, pace, strength. Players who have some quality on or with the ball. They are likely the fittest outfit in the division.

They have a manager who has experience of getting out of this division twice in last 5? years or so. He knows his way around the place and his tactics of getting in our faces and the quality of some of the players they have this was always going to happen.

No doubts team selection was wrong by LJ.

Rotherham are an upgrade on Charlton, and a different world from Evans’ Gillingham and, apart from how we managed to keep Wycombe under control earlier in season, there is a trend developing – when we come up against the better equipped and mix in their teams we struggle a bit. Stating I obvious I know, but I am also a little concerned that our young players, who have been immense for the most part, are perhaps suffering a little from well, like shell-shock from the ongoing physical and or arial bombardments from these big powerful, experienced reasonably talented grown men who have been deliberately instructed to get right into us from word go.

Some of these lads are also playing in league cup games and other trophies we are involved with and, in the main, I think the Head Coach rotation has been very well executed. But are we at a point where there is some physical respite as well as emotional and mental respite required for a few of them?

So, is it a blip?

No, I don’t think it is, but we can change things up a bit on how we set up and I don’t want to get in the position of telling LJ what he should be doing. He mentioned it post Rotherham that do we have to recruit a couple of players in January to get a bit more “physicality” in our squad in the various zones of the pitch?

There is also this getting overrun in midfield which LJ does need to take a very good look at. That is another conversation and I have already taken up a fair bit of time with this.

Personally, I will KTF with Head Coach and players. Our club owner is like a breath of fresh air. We are going places there is no doubt about that. What has been achieved in less than nine months is incredible and something for all of us to extremely proud of as well as bloody grateful to KL-D.

I firmly believe he didn’t come with the intention of just saving Sunderland AFC, it is his intention to make Sunderland AFC a force to be reckoned with in English football…

I shall keep trekking up to SOL by train as often as I can and where ticket allocation and time permits I will go for away games wherever possible.

Keep up what is in the main enjoyable. good work by you lads at RR.

All the very best

Nick Stewart

Ed’s Note [Martin]: Thanks for that very detailed analysis Nick – interesting observations, and I agree it’s becoming clear we need some extra physicality in the squad. It’s something Lee Johnson’s talked about post Rotherham, as you mentioned, but also post-Charlton. Referees across the country have let more ‘go’ this season, and in League One, on occasion, it’s gone too far the other way – we need some know how and strength, particularly centrally, and I suspect we’ll see 2-3 signings in that mould come January.

Football. 1992 FA Cup Final. Wembley. 9th May, 1992. Liverpool 2 v Sunderland 0. Liverpool’s Ian Rush shoots past the challenge of Sunderland’s Kevin Ball.
We could probably do with a Kevin Ball type player in the team now!
Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Well, here we go again. Another collapse against a side we really should get past, or at least come away with a point from. The buck has to stop at Lee Johnson’s door. He talks a great tactical game and also spouts off knowledge to show he is really “up there” with sports science, but the one thing he cannot inject into this lot is guts.

The worst thing he could have said this week was comparing young Neil to a young Gascoigne. I am red and white through and through, but Gazza was a one in a lifetime player. Johnson should have the knowledge not to praise players too highly, or it will blow up in his face. I do believe he has gone overboard in praising players this season. He gushes about their off the ball movement, their gliding into positions and their ability to ghost past defenders. These kind of nonsensical comments can easily give the wrong thought processes to young lads, and they will believe they are a cut above this division. Well they are not.

We are here because this is where we merit being. All these new age coaches lack a vital ingredient, and that is the one thing we need to get out of this cess pit of a league. Quite simply put it is bottle. All the fancy terminology in the world cannot hide the fact we are woefully short of players who have the mindset to dig in when the going gets tough.

A meltdown against Portsmouth because it was raining (bless their little cotton socks), and now this farce against Rotherham. It is surely no coincidence that the last time we had any relative kind of success was when we had hard line managers. These players need telling in no uncertain terms that we may have premiership facilities, but we are a League One club. Until the mindsets change, we will be stuck here, and there is no doubt whatsoever about that.

Thanking you

Hughie O’Grady

Ed’s Note [Martin]: I think it’s easy to overreact to a shockingly bad performance like we witnessed on Saturday, Hughie, and it’s important not to. We’ve gone down the route of having young players with significant potential this season, rather than tried and tested League One players, because the latter didn’t work, and the fact is they’re learning.

I think it’s unfair to accuse them of lacking guts – we’ve shown great determination and spirit and fight in a number of games this season – Wigan, Wycombe, Gillingham, QPR... and there’s others, too. Saturday doesn’t change that, as crap as it was.

Managers will always talk up certain players, and certain attributes in their team because it sends messages out to their players – either about what they need to see from them or what they need to see consistently.

I think, as evidenced by the other letters today, it’s apparent we need a couple of stronger, bigger players in the team – players who can get stuck in when we’re up against it, help us aerially, and take some of the physical heat off the rest of the team.

At the end of the day, we’ve won nine and drawn one from 14 this season in the league, and are in the quarter finals of the league cup. We’re going at 2 points per game in the league, which will usually get you promoted over the course of a season. No, things aren’t perfect, and yes there’s huge room for improvement, but let’s not get carried away with how ‘bad’ things are because, quite simply, they’re not! The players of course know we’re a League One club – they will also know we shouldn’t be – but they will also know that we have no god-given right to go to Rotherham and get anything at all. Rotherham are an excellent team at this level (not someone we should automatically get past, or get a point from) if we finish above them this season, we’ll get automatically promoted, in my opinion.

By the way, I suspect David Moyes is regarded by players as a hardline manager...


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