Dear Roker Report,
With so many players out of contract at the end of the season, and with denials, this week, that Luke O’Nien’s been offered a new deal, I just wanted to take a really hard-nosed look at our current squad. I’m thinking about who might conceivably be able to come with us to the next level and equip us to compete at the top end of the Championship. If we did manage to go up this season, thinking positively, we’d clearly need a huge overhaul in order to compete, and to avoid ‘doing a Wycombe.’ That shouldn’t be too hard when you consider our financial resources, and our pulling power; relative to a club like Wycombe, who arguably over-achieved by getting there in the first place.
Of the loanees, I’d be very happy if we could keep Sanderson and Jones, both of whom look like they could step up at least one level. We haven’t really seen him, of course, but my gut feeling is that Xhemajli would also be good enough to play at that level. Bailey Wright’s been good enough previously, and is still young enough – he’ll be 29 when next season starts. Bailey’s also a leader, and would seem an obvious captain. I know some people will also back Willis, and I can see why, but I think he’s a little limited, and that his speed sometimes compensates for poor touch, passing, and game-reading.
Of the golden oldies, McGeady may have a season (maybe even two!?) left in him, solely because of his superior skill. For now, he’s still capable of going past defenders on either side to put quality balls into the box, and create chances, as we’ve seen. Leadbitter and Maguire, on the other hand, now seem just a bit too long in the tooth for one more shot at the Championship. Several of the youngsters might be good enough, but the only one I can get behind with total confidence is Dan Neil, who looks like he has the quality to play in the Premier League, eventually; it would be great if that was with us. Hume has still to totally convince me, but I’d add him to the list on the basis that he’s been first-choice left-back this season, and – let’s face it – his reputation’s only been enhanced by our left-sided struggles in his absence. Embleton, Kimpioka, Diamond, Younger, Hawkes, etc., etc. – most of them should come with us, and time will tell...
I reckon that might actually be it...? Of the others, there are a number, whatever their positive qualities as players and human beings, pretty much belong at League One level, realistically. I mean, I love Luke, he’s a smashing lad, but he’s probably a good League One footballer. Charlie’s also been brilliant, but I’d probably have to say the same. Power, Flanagan, Winchester, Scowen, Gooch, McLaughlin, O’Brien, the list goes on... I’d say they all belong at this level, purely in terms of limited technique. At best, many of them could do a job at a mid-table/lower-half Championship team; and we, ultimately, need to look beyond that, and recruit players who could start to form the core of a competitive Premier League squad.
So I make that seven certainties, from my assessment. Of those seven: there’re two who aren’t actually our players at the moment, one who hasn’t really convinced me yet, one who hasn’t actually played a competitive game for us, one who’ll be 35, another who’ll still be 19, and a seventh who has a history of injury problems… Good summer recruitment needed then!
Ed’s Note [Rich]: The sooner we get key contracts with our younger players sorted, Doug, the better. Clearly we have developed players who we’ll need next season whichever division we’re in, so tying those up sooner rather than later would make sense for me. Beyond them, I’d love to see Luke O’Nien stay, Wyke has surely earned a new deal and who knows whether we’ll be able to prise Sanderson from the clutches of Premier League. But you’re totally right, a proper assessment of the quality of our resources and good, intelligent recruitment will be key in the summer.
Dear Roker Report,
Hi to all. With life on Wearside seemingly on the up and hopes of automatic promotion gathering pace, I’d like your views on how much injuries have driven the selection of a better side and provided better balance within the team.
Max Power has become one of the best performers in the team since his switch to right back, finally taking responsibility for tracking back when not in possession, a flaw which cost us several goals when playing in midfield. Sanderson has been given the chance to prove he is a great premier league prospect with the loss of Wright and Willis forcing us to play him. Jordan Jones is unlikely to lose his place any time soon since we put him in the team from the start. He looked a little unsure of his position against Crewe but I blame that on Gooch not taking up his No 10 role properly and the subsequent injury has led to O’Brien coming back into the team to give the right balance up front. Now I know Aiden is not everyone’s cup of tea but he takes defenders away from Wyke and also stops Charlie drifting out wide too often when looking for support. That keeps him in the right place to convert his chances when set up by Geads or Jones.
Only concern at the moment is left back and once Hume is back in the side we might see a title winning team emerge to take us to the end of the campaign. Fingers crossed they stay fit.
All the best,
Ed’s Note [Rich]: Cheers for your letter, Tony. Aiden O’Brien is a funny one. He’s clearly committed, runs his heart out and does a lot of the dirty work to occupy defenders and make space for others, which can go unnoticed. For me, he lacks a clinical edge in front of goal but, as we’ve seen with Charlie Wyke, often confidence is crucial when it comes to finding your goalscoring form. I think he, Lynden Gooch and Jordan Jones are all very different players, and it may become a matter of horses for courses for Johnson from now on.
Dear Roker Report,
This player has to be signed and his move made permanent as long as he wants too. He is class and is a valuable asset and spine of the team. To lose him and have to start again next season would be so wrong.
Ed’s Note [Rich]: Hi Malcolm. If you’re referring to Dion Sanderson, I completely agree, if we do go up, all efforts should be made to make his move permanent, or at least we could look to extend the loan for a further year.