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Fan Letters: ‘Do we need to get promoted to keep O’Nien, Willis and Hume?’ asks SAFC fan Josh

Are we seeing the last few months of O’Nien, Hume and Willis at Sunderland? RR reader Josh fears so... Plus, keepers, pizza dreams and tactics! Got something to say? Email us:!

Fleetwood Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

On the eve of the draw of everyone’s favourite cup, I think it’s imperative that we take this 100% seriously now. I don’t think we haven’t done so previously to this season, but it’s now more important than ever.

On our day, I don’t see us losing to the three other teams that are left in the competition. We’ve beaten Lincoln 4-0 already this year, Oxford are on a good run but I still fancy us if we turn up, and Tranmere are in League Two. Let’s hope we draw Tranmere, field a strong team, get to Wembley and complete League One by winning the distinguished Pizza Cup.


Ed’s Note [Martin]: I agree Max, we should consider ourselves favourites for the competition and be focused on winning it. The reason I think it’s so important, however, is so we can break that Wembley hoodoo. There’s a very strong chance, in my view, we’ll end up back at Wembley in May – and I’d much rather we were approaching the prospect of that game having already won at Wembley a few months earlier. Fingers crossed!

Portsmouth v Sunderland - Checkatrade Trophy Final
Max is hoping we can go a step further than we did in 2019
Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I don’t think there is a lot between Lee [Burge] and Remi [Matthews] apart from the kicking, which I rate Remi in front of Lee. As it’s poor ground conditions time the better kicking could open up a stuck-in-the-mud defence and, with a bit of pace in the team now, at last, could see a quick counter-attack. It’d be well worth giving Remi a run in the team.

Robert Walker

Ed’s Note [Martin]: Thanks for your email Robert – Parkinson was obviously in agreement as Burge had been left on the bench in a number of games before Parky got the boot. Let’s be honest, neither of them are great, and we’d need to look for another keeper if we went up.

At present, we’re not scoring that many goals, so my instinct would be to put the more ‘solid’ keeper in goal. To my mind that’s Burge. Matthews has made a number of mistakes that have led directly to goals this season, and I have very little confidence in him.

Of course, the other answer to the fact we’re not scoring that many is – as you point out – getting better on the counter. Flip a coin!

Sunderland v MK Dons - Sky Bet League 1
Robert thinks it’s worth giving Matthews a run in the team
Photo by Trevor Wilkinson/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

As you know, I am an avid contributor to your Fan Letters section. What formation will Johnson be using this season? With new players coming to the club, while others are going out the door, will we see all of our new signings out on pitch, playing together?

Would love to know your answer.

Ian Donoghue

Ed’s Note [Martin]: Thanks for your email Ian, and for your regular contributions – we greatly appreciate them!

I think the only thing that’s certain with Johnson’s tactics is that he’s going to play four at the back (watch him go to a back three on Saturday now!). Other than that we’ve seen a number of subtle variations – three in midfield with two wingers and one striker, two deep in midfield, two ahead and two upfront, and a more traditional 4-4-2.

The challenge Johnson’s got is that, to get the best out of Wyke, we need to play someone alongside him – his partner comes deep, Wyke plays off the shoulder. He’s just not effective by himself. So I think we’ll either see Gooch, Stewart or O’Brien in that role on a regular basis.

The signing of Jones, and given the fact we have Diamond and McGeady, suggests to me his preferred formation will include two wide men. So, given that, I think he’ll prefer a 4-4-2 / 4-2-3-1 depending on how you view the role of the player alongside Wyke.

That then raises the question of whether Leadbitter can cope in a two-man midfield. I think he struggles, so it may be that we see more of Scowen and O’Nien starting together. O’Nien’s energy in there could be vital, and while he’s a little polarising, I think Scowen’s a good player and will revel in the deeper role Leadbitter usually occupies.

Having said all of that, Johnson strikes me as the type of manager (sorry, head coach) who won’t rigidly stick to a formation (unlike his predecessor) so there may be variations along the way. It’ll be interesting to watch.

Sunderland v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet League One Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I see Josh Maja has signed for Fulham. If he stays there permanently we could get a future kick back.... kick in the teeth, more like. We should never have sold him. Imagine we had kept him? I know it’s silly to dwell on the past but that moment right there changed the landscape for SAFC and we were so short sighted that we thought he could be replaced.

Brian Curnow

Ed’s Note [Martin]: I agree Brian, I’m sure all concerned feel the same in hindsight. There are a number of aspects to it, aren't there – the fact we let a quality, young player go, the fact we didn’t get promoted, and the fact that all of the money we got for him – and then some – was spent on Will Grigg. A desperate episode all round. Still, nothing to be gained from dwelling on it – let’s just hope lessons have been learnt.

Charlton Athletic v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
What could have been, wonders Brian
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I’m preparing myself for Luke O’Nien’s inevitible departure. He’s good enough for the league above and out of contract soon... could we afford to even give him a Championship contract with the salary cap? Feels like keeping the likes of LON, Willis and Hume is dependent on getting promoted. Thoughts?

Josh Dolan

Ed’s Note [Martin]: Agree 100% Josh, and that’s why I’ll argue till the cows come home with people who say ‘we’d be better off staying down in League One for another season’.

Absolute nonsense.

We’re going to need a big overhaul in players this summer regardless, but if we can get up and keep hold of the players you mention then the turnover will be less, and we’ll be far better off in the long term as we can keep hold of our better players and pay sensibly to attract others. In League One there’s a hugely restrictive salary cap that simply serves to widen the gap between the Championship and League One and reduces any advantage we have in terms of the size of the club, crowds and ability to generate revenue.

The writing’s on the wall though – if we don’t go up we can wave goodbye to the three of them.

Fleetwood Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Is this O’Nien’s last season at Sunderland? Let’s hope not.
Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images

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