Dear Roker Report,
I feel the next two games will do much to define our whole season, and also whether Lee Johnson is the right man. The games - against Doncaster Rovers on Saturday at home in the League and against Lincoln City next Tuesday in the delightfully named Papa John EFL Trophy - will do much to reveal whether LJ is good enough.
Good God, who ever thought that we should ever end up worrying about games against Doncaster and Lincoln City? This also when our new owner, young Kyril, witnessed the shambolic display on Tuesday at Shrewsbury.
I would argue that no one could say with a straight face that LJ has inherited a squad of world beaters, but in the context of the third tier, it ought to be good enough to match the other poor teams in this very poor division.
Let’s look at the evidence:
This position perhaps confirms that, whilst many would point at the transfer of Maja being the main reason for Ross’ team failing at the final hurdle two years ago, the subsequent loss of Jon McLaughlin accounts for most of our problems since. Remi Matthews should never play for us again, since he has successfully been playing for our opponents every time he has been selected. Burge, whilst not brilliant, should not have been dropped this week. If LJ is in doubt, he should play Antony Patterson, who looks a decent prospect.
We almost have an embarrassment of riches. Willis, Wright, Sanderson and young Oliver Younger. Even Flanagan and McLaughlin - who are both current Northern Ireland Internationals - would just about do. Contrast that with Ross’s choices of Baldwin, Flanagan and Ozturk.
We are undoubtedly missing Hume, but even then, O’Nien, McLaughlin and Power ought to be good enough. Please, not McFadzean... and poor Vokins has been thrown in the deep end.
In this League I think Johnson has made a monumental error in trusting to only two central midfielders in order to accommodate his embarrassment of riches in the wide areas. He needs three in midfield. One must be Leadbitter, who needs some legs and energy ahead of him. This could be provided by O’Nien, Neil, or Winchester, and should have included Elliot Embleton, who was wrongly sent out on loan to Blackpool. Scowen is not the answer, nor is Power, who seems better suited to the full back position.
Again, we have an embarrassment of riches in this league - McGeady, Jones, Gooch and Diamond. LJ must decide on the best option here and not try and shoehorn too many into the wrong positions.
Our real area of weakness. Wyke at present is our only option. Although a bona fide carthorse, he seems to be able to score at this level as long as he has another striker with him, or in current parlance, a 9-and-a-half. This should not be the physically and mentally weak O’Brien. I only hope we will see Ross Stewart in this position. Failing that, LJ needs to play either Gooch or O’Nien in that role.
Jack Ross got us into the Play-Offs, and nearly won it and got us to the EFL Final, only to lose when Cattermole missed a penalty - this with a weaker squad and less depth than this one. He was an intelligent and developing talent, who is again doing well at Hibs.
For all his faults - and I believe he was the wrong man - Parkinson had a defined way of playing, and the players knew their exact role. At present, LJ doesn’t know his best team, nor does he have a clear view on how his team should be set up. I now have great doubts, but the next two games may tell us more.
Ed’s Note [Gav]: I agree with lots of that, Colin, particularly the stuff about Johnson needing to work out his best team. All successful sides have a strong, reliable core, and at present we’re changing too much, too soon. Chris made a fantastic point on the post-Shrewsbury edition of the Podcast - there are no partnerships in this team. How can we be a successful side with a settled defensive pairing, midfield duo, or a forward line that regularly plays together? Players only succeed when they learn to understand one another’s game, and that only comes with consistency in selection.
Dear Roker Report,
By all accounts the game was a dire performance, as well as the injury sustained to Willis. We are now scraping the barrel for defenders, and after releasing so many promising youngsters, it’s hardly surprising.
The goalkeeper issue has to be resolved ASAP, as does the left flank. Denver’s return cannot come quick enough.
If the players we have brought in on short term deals or loans are not doing the job, then return them to parent clubs, or release them from contracts. We cannot afford to carry passengers in the final stage of the season!
Ed’s Note [Gav]: Woooah, steady on, horsie. Vokins has been shite like, and I won’t dispute that, but it’s a bit soon to write the boy off. I certainly wouldn’t be sending him back to Southampton after a handful of games - I do agree however that Hume’s return cannot come soon enough. Hopefully now his doubters will at least admit that he’s a decent player, because his spell out of the side has shown just how important he was prior to his injury.
With the keepers, I’d like to see Patterson given a chance. I don’t think it’s likely, but I’d like to see it. If that’s not happening then let’s just stick with Burge... just never go back to Matthews, please. I still feel disgusted with myself for saying it was a good idea on Tuesday.
Dear Roker Report,
Firstly, I’ll start by saying that Lee Johnson needs to be given time. Most managers say they need four transfer windows - my issue with that being that if our recruitment continues to be as poor as it has been, 14 windows will not make a difference.
This current side will not get promoted for the following reasons.
1. Goalkeeper - neither Burge or certainly Matthews are good enough for a promotion winning side - they could get away with it if we had a really strong back four... we don’t.
2. Full Backs - I simply cannot understand why Max Power is playing at right back - he isn’t one, is prone to the odd rash challenge and his distribution is poor. We need Denver Hume back urgently. McFadzean is too slow and switches off, & Sam Vokins is everything that is wrong with loaning young players. He will never be a Sunderland player permanently, so we get him to help his development for Southampton, and so he can make his mistakes for us!
3. Our midfield is slow and pedestrian, has no zip; no players buzzing around making us tick. Most teams have bullied/overran us in midfield. We never control games or look on top. Look at what Gillingham did to us, completely bossed the game. In the three years we have laboured in this division, only once did I see us control a game, that was for twenty minutes at Walsall, then Power got sent off.
We concede too many pointless free kicks and our build up is pedestrian, allowing sides to get their shape back.
I like the glimpses of Jordan Jones so far and for me it’s time to get Dan Neil into the side on a regular basis. I’ll accept failing if we give the likes of him & Diamond a run in the side.
Failing with this current side is simply not good enough.
Ed’s Note [Gav]: I agree with your comment about Diamond, I really love watching him. Not everything that he tries works, but he’s got so much enthusiasm when he runs with the ball - that shouldn’t be stifled. i really hope he goes on to be a top player for us.