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Sheffield Wednesday v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One

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Talking Points: What can Sunderland learn from another defeat and another poor performance?

What do we think is behind the issues we are seeing recently?

Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

What’s happened to our defence?

The first and I think most significant talking point of the last match (and indeed the last few) is, what on earth has happened to our defence? We have shipped nine goals in three games, after being pretty defensively stingy, though admittedly being more open due to our revised playing approach. Granted, a couple of those were with 10 men away to Rotherham, but this leaky tub at the back simply has to be addressed. If I were to add in the four goals conceded in the pond at Pompey, it looks even worse.

Only a couple of weeks ago, fans and pundits alike were applauding the SAFC rear guard, indeed the team from back to front. Doyle was being touted to captain England one day. Flanagan lauded as “at another level”, a new man since last season. Winchester was a team of the week right back who scores, and who many said can really do a job till we get Huggins fit. Cirkin – why on earth did anyone let him leave? He is twice the player Hume may ever be, and not made of tissue paper and jam.

Sheffield Wednesday v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Winch - can he help pull us back into winning ways?
Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

Now, it seems even for the most basic goal attempts, and certainly not from anything fancy or spectacular, we are letting sides score with little or no composure or ability to react. We seem to drop into “six yard box panic mode” with most attacks, and cannot clear our area. We are displaying levels of aerial ineptitude not witnessed for many a year even at this level – we are being out bullied, out jumped, out-thought and out-moved in the box, and we are paying the price.

Outside the box, we are way too slack in our marking and tracking back, no matter who the personnel. The principle of the hard press with one or two men is also seemingly a thing of the past, even in our own half. Instead, we are gifting decent League One footballers 10 yards of space, often without them having to do anything to earn it, to whip in a cross with little or no pressure, at least a few times a game. People are wondering why we are conceding - we have forgotten the basics. It is as simple as that.

Johnson and his defensive coaches have 13 goals to look at with which they can react and find some way forward. You need to find out what has changed and what is going wrong Lee, and you need to fix it before the team spirit you seemed to have created falls apart. I don’t care if it means we drop Flanno and put in Alves, or drop Doyle and put in Younger. We need to change something, probably several things, as repeating what we have seen these last few games simply will not wash.

Have we been “sussed out” in midfield?

Over the last few disappointing games the opposition teams and coaching staff seem to have worked out how to take our key middle of the park players out of the game. I am not sure if this element of being “sussed out” is a factor?

After winning manager of the month all those months ago, the same happened to Phil Parkinson before his demise, though the basic tactics he employed didn’t need a genius to disassemble and overcome. The recent successes for opposition midfields seems to have been mainly achieved by bullying our lads as close to the law as you can get away with (and with League One refs, that is probably something like no blood = no foul). This has also been partly through other more discreet tactical means, however. We need to get to the bottom of that and get back on the front foot.

Sheffield Wednesday v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Was he robbed for off side, or was Gooch in the wrong place (again)?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Again, the coaching team need to work out what is happening, and confirm how we get the team and especially the creative abilities of the likes of Neil firing again. We will not be changing match outcomes, especially after going a goal down, without working out how we are being played against and having options to react. If this is fitness, sod the cups and get the lads fitter and focus on the league. If it is tactics, you talk a good strategy Lee, show us that.

The additional sad point about the loss at Hillsborough was the fact that even when a couple down and looking grim, the bench wasn’t used, and the approach wasn’t altered at half time, or until well after it. I really cannot work out why, and if that attitude continues (“Trust me lads, we are set up right, let’s just do this better”) then the coaching team and the playing team will go all out of kilter and our downwards spiral will carry on.

Sort out what we are suffering from in midfield please, Johnson. Our engine room was recently the envy of the league. We have been sussed, so react to that and roll out plan B, or C, or Z.

Just sort it, please, and soon!

We seem to have lost the never-say-die attitude we had earlier in the season. How can we get that back?

Along with our newfound defensive frailties, another thing that seems to have changed in the last few weeks is team spirit when we are challenged. Early in the season we went behind but dug in, and many times we ground out league points we would not have in past League One seasons. Now, it seems heads go down when we let one in. Players lose their cool, we lose our shape on the park, and the coach doesn’t react. We seem rudderless and leaderless. All the lads who previously would row in unison with synchronisation alike to a University Boat Race crew have thrown their paddles, and are drowning. It is simply awful to witness.

Mistakes breed mistakes, but as it was in the early season, losing the lead needs to trigger a different reaction in these games, especially as we will soon be approaching the halfway point of the season. In earlier games this campaign it was noticeable that the team seemed to have improved on the mental side, not succumbing to the pressure of playing for SAFC, gritting teeth and getting back into it. Parallel to our game on Tuesday night, the SAFC 3rd team (Wigan) were 2-0 down, but they came back to win 3-2.

We were like that earlier in this league journey. We had determination and resolve, and belief. We need to get that attitude back, glue it in place, and not let it slip again. Winning leads to winning, and losing leads the other way. Let’s get our heads back in the game, and get back to where we were by any means necessary. Please.

Sheffield Wednesday v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
The first goal knocked all of our confidence
Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

It is a marathon not a sprint, let’s not knee jerk react too soon... but we need to react

However, if you take five hours to run a marathon, you aren’t going to win a medal any time soon.

We have to get confidence back and stay with the pack. We are lucky that we are still within a couple of points of top if we win our remaining game in hand (though who would back us winning that if we played it now?). This is testament to the start we had pre these last few matches, and indicative of where we can be if we get back to those ways.

At times like these players who are winners, and coaches with the tactics and strategies to bounce back, tend to do so. We need to use the next two cup games to reset, rebuild and resume the two points per game target versus Ipswich at home. We then have two more away games at Shrewsbury and Cambridge, and we need to ensure that we hit December with a new vein of form, on a good positive run. We also need to exit the year with a clear view of what reinforcements we need in January. The club would have us believe that work has been going on since the summer window closed. Let’s see the wares they have lined up, and make sure we have another gear over and above our best one available, ready for the 2022 run-in.

For me we need more attacking options, as we are not putting the promising youngsters like Wearne and Harris in, and we have lost pace with the injuries to Broadhead (now starting to come back) and Dajaku.

We need a midfield general with stature, a new generation “Bally”. When teams come to rough us up, he can sort that and let the lads around him play their game. We also potentially need a defensive leader, as the promise that Wright once showed seems to be a thing of the past.

Rotherham United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Come on Lee.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Most importantly we need to get out of this rut as soon as possible, initially with some really positive cup games in the next two weeks. We need to get HMS P*ss the League fuelled and ready to sail once more.

Winning the league involves playing as well as we can in as many games as we can. We will lose some, but we can play better when we do. We won’t benefit by sacking the gaffer as we have in the past, but he and his team needs to show why they deserve our faith during times like this. Times of adversity.


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