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Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One

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Talking Points: Pressure on LJ mounts - how on earth did we manage to balls it up?!

For many, pressure on the Sunderland gaffer will be cranked up again after not winning despite having a one-man advantage for 45 minutes against Shrewsbury.

Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Let’s be very clear - one point wasn’t good enough

There is no getting away from it. Even if you are away from home against a team who are in the lower half of the league but play well on their own patch, you should be able to secure a league win when you have a one man advantage for a whole half of a game. But we didn’t, and that is a major two points lost which we may well rue at the end of the season.

We played okay in the first half and probably deserved the lead by a small margin, but it was clear what the Shrewsbury coach had asked of them while in the dressing room.

Less than five minutes before we let one in, they flashed the ball past Hoffmann within an inch of their attacker's boot. We could honestly have lost that game with no complaints.

Shrewsbury wanted it more with ten men than we did with a full side - they didn’t tire and they didn’t give up even knowing they were one man down for 45 minutes. We had an extra man and rather than pass, pass, pass and create a gap, we tried to take players on; we tried to pump long balls up; we just didn’t do what we needed to.

This for me is the most concerning aspect of the draw.

Desire, confidence, attitude and application of the right thinking when under pressure are all left hugely wanting. You can teach a player to curl a shot into the top bins, but you cannot teach emotional strength, or grit and determination at times of need. Ruthlessness when in a position of strength was void of existence.

Maybe we are just missing that in our team.

It just wasn’t good enough.

Will the gaffer be sacked? Of course not - but challenges like this and the welcome win versus Ipswich will raise more questions than he would like.

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

O’Brien started, in a very different formation - did that work?

Many were surprised to see Aiden O’Brien start the game.

Was he added in to give us some much-needed physicality up front, or to maybe draw defenders away to make room for Ross Stewart? Was he put into the team due to options being limited in terms of the way the boss wanted us to play?

The setup of the team was weird, and the inclusion of O’Brien was equally so.

I purposely noted anything significant he did for the time he was on the pitch in the first 45 minutes, and other than giving the ball away as easily as many of his peers, he blocked one attack around our left back position about half an hour in. He made very little attacking contribution in the first half, and in the second half I stopped watching him as I was bored of trying to find something that wasn’t there.

It was a clear demonstration of how he doesn’t bring anything that we need to make a difference.

He did well getting a match ball in the cup recently, but I think we need to accept he isn’t a game-changer, and we need more up front in the January window to give us what the team needs - pace, power and attacking threat.

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Were there any positives to take from the game?

There were a few for me which I will begrudgingly acknowledge.

Despite the goal we let in, I do think the defence looks more solid with the Wright and Doyle middle two rather than Flanagan and Doyle.

Another positive was the goal for Pritchard, who was much more “on it” than a lot of players. He got an assist at the weekend, following that up by curling a beauty in for us away from home.

Hopefully, he can step on and up and become a real force for us.

We won ugly at home and then drew ugly away, and the result is the same as if we won well away and drew respectably at home.

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

So what happens now?

After the Ipswich win, my mate Ian correctly called last weekend that we need to kick on, and that has not changed in my view.

We have gone from losing three league games in a row to winning four points from six, three of which were against a top ten side many fancy this season.

That is an upturn of sorts, but we need more - much more.

And, we need that against a team that recently held our friends Wigan to a draw.

The pieces of the jigsaw have moved around the table, and we may now have the corners in place, but we have a shit load of sky and stacks of sea that we need to fit in to get the picture clear.

It’s all blue and very complicated, but we need to sort it out. Not until we emerge from this kicking on stage can we consider if we really are fit for going up this season in the top two.

We will need more players in January, and we may need a lot more work on the coaching side of things to make it all click, but we are still five points from the second automatic promotion spot with two games in hand on them, so we remain in the hunt.

Only a solid three points in Cambridge this weekend will do, or even some of the most diehard of fans who readily support this long-term project may start barking for change.

That would be a disaster for the club, but who can blame people for being disappointed after that? Certainly not me.

Cambridge United v Northampton Town: Emirates FA Cup First Round Replay Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images


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