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As Sunderland head into a defining few months, what improvements would you like to see?

What is the one huge improvement that you want to see from the club as we head into the final few months of the season? We asked our panel to offer up some suggestions...

Sunderland v Swindon Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Kelvin Beattie: “Sort the left back role out!”

Despite our difficulties in defence with injuries, I would like to see the issue at left back resolved. In the last few games I believe teams - whether by good pre-game planning or working things out mid-match - have targeted that area of our defence.

In all fairness, I would say that Callum McFadzean has had ample opportunity to settle in and make that position his own in the absence of Hume. He has not succeeded.

Not only are we vulnerable defensively, I would argue the effectiveness of our attack down the left is impaired, as passes go astray or it takes far too long to get the ball out to McGeady and the other forwards. I also believe that had the stadium had fans in it, they would have been making themselves heard in no uncertain terms, whatever the rights and wrongs of fan pressure on individual players who are struggling.

If we are playing a left wing back I would like to see Vokins given another try.

Pending Gooch’s injury I might have tried him in that role. Failing this, if Flanagan is returning, flexible Luke O’Nien will shore up defensively and probably speed up the flow and accuracy of our offensive play on the left. To leave this as it is, would be leaving a known problem to chance, and not the kind of risk we need to be taking as we move into the crucial period of this strange and different season.

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Joseph Tulip: “Stronger midfield performances needed!”

We’ve made giant strides in a relatively short period of time under Lee Johnson. While this hasn’t always been reflected in performances, our ability to turn draws into vital wins has been crucial to our promotion push.

One area I would like to see an improvement in is central midfield.

Grant Leadbitter is the best we currently have in that position, in terms of the way he can control a game and dictate the play. But in his absence, the likes of Carl Winchester and Josh Scowen really need to step up, especially with Max Power and Luke O’Nien being needed to plug holes in our injury-ravaged defence.

We need creativity in midfield, bold forward passes to supply our front three, and an alternative to the sideways and back options we have seen so often this season. Chris Maguire could come in to play an advanced central role in front of our sitting pair, or Dan Neill could be given a chance to prove his worth. The jury remains out on Winchester, who was better in the second half against Swindon than he had been in the first 45. However, while Scowen is busy, he usually opts for the safe option when it comes to making a pass.

With many of our League One opponents sitting behind the ball, we need something more incisive and less predictable than a square and back midfield.

Sunderland v Swindon Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Gary Engel: “Play a 10 behind Wyke!”

Once some of our first choice defenders return from injury to add to our strength at the back, there may be more opportunity to play a false number ten behind Wyke. There is no doubt how well Wyke and McGeady have combined; the stats are eye-watering in fact. But as they become marked-men another player up and around the box for opposition defenders to worry about would give us an even greater edge heading into the final run-in.

We have certainly been much more positive in recent weeks and taken more points than we would have expected before the turn of the year. But there are going to be quite a few games where breaking teams down proves more difficult, hence getting an extra player to bomb into the box in support, I feel could prove essential to this seasons outcome.

We know Gooch has played many positions for us would jump at the chance to move forward into a number 10 position. He may not be perfect, but I sure with virtually everyone fit, we must have someone to play that role without looking like a square peg.

Crewe Alexandra v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Jon Hobley/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Paul Fletcher: “Improve the streams further!”

I know I’ve already banged on about this in an article but I’ll bang on about it again. Why? Because right now, it’s the only way for Sunderland supporters to watch the game regardless of whether they live a mile from the ground or on the other side of the world. People have paid fortunes for season tickets and this streaming service is supposed to be the replacement. Is this seriously the best we can offer?

Inconsistent stream, out of sync audio, mistakes in the graphics, Frankie and Danny’s microphones sounding like the bingo callers down the local social club, etc. Yes, they’ve upgraded from one camera to four and introduced Hashtag Ask Danny for some post-match discussion - both welcome changes - but is that as far as they’re going to go with the improvements?

They’ve had a year since the pandemic stopped fans attending games, which has been more than enough time to invest in the streaming service and make it better. Although it has improved significantly in that time (remember how bad it used to be), it’s still plagued by technical issues and is a pretty amateur effort for a club of our stature.

I don’t care if it’s better than what other League One clubs offer as I don’t judge Sunderland by the standards of a League One club. If the new regime wants to make a good impression on the supporters, they have the perfect platform and a captive audience. Just give us good, uninterrupted coverage of the game. I’m not expecting Sky Sports UHD and half time analysis from Roy Keane. But I don’t want you to force poor Frankie to interrupt the game to give us the winning lottery numbers or try and sell shirts. I want instant replays to be, well, instant. And I don’t want to have to mute the TV every time the adverts come on because the accompanying music is so offensive to my eardrums. I just want to enjoy the match.

Again, this is not an attack on Frankie and Danny. They do the best they can in difficult circumstances and are being hung out to dry every match because of decisions made above their heads. The last 15 games of the season could potentially be absolutely class to watch for thousands of supporters around the world. We just need the club can get things right with the streaming service and Lee Johnson’s men to get things right on the pitch.

That aside...

Improving our decision making in the final third is the one area of the game that could make all the difference to the outcome of our season. When we’re two or three nil up and cruising in games, we tend to make the right decisions, with little or no hesitation. However, if we’re a goal down or running out of time to get a winner, then the decision making can often be laboured and frustrating to watch.

Every supporter who streams the games will know what I’m talking about. Players attempting a speculative shot when there’s an easy pass available, or turning down a clear goalscoring opportunity in favour of an easy pass, or taking four or five touches in midfield and stopping a counter attack in its tracks, or playing the safe pass backwards instead of having a run at the full back.

I don’t want to be too critical of players who have picked up 13 points from the last 5 league matches. I’m sure they watch the games back and realise when they could have made a better decision. We work the ball into so many good positions during a game and we need to make this possession in good areas count.

It’s impossible to always make the right decision, especially under pressure but if we could somehow get into a frame of mind where we’re making these decisions as if we’re already three goals up, under no pressure at all, I think we’d see more players making more bold choices that will impact the game. By doing so, we’d score more goals and win most games by a comfortable margin. While I wouldn’t mind us winning all the rest of our matches 1-0, I’m not sure whether my nerves could take it.

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