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Sunderland v Tranmere Rovers - Papa John’s Trophy - Final 2021 - Wembley Stadium

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Fan Letters: Where is Chris Maguire?

As the dust settles on our first defeat in ages, there’s some disagreement with Lee Johnson’s team selection, questions about where Chris Maguire is, and a mixed feeling about our promotion chances. Got owt to say? Email us: rokerreport@yahoo.co.uk!

Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I am so puzzled that Chris Maguire does not get selected in he starting line up and is always a substitute. Now, he has been dropped to under 23s where he scored a brilliant goal!

He has always proved to be a game changer and if he and McGeady were playing together, wouldn’t we walk the league?

I’m sure Johnson has been wrong in not picking him at the start? Maguire is far better player than most of the players except McGeady, so what is the reason from Johnson ?

Harish Shah

Ed’s note [Martin]: It’s a puzzle for me too, Harish, and Maguire wasn’t even on the bench on Saturday. I’d give him a run in the withdrawn position alongside the central striker, as he can produce a moment of magic scoring or creating a goal – as we saw at Crewe.

Maybe Johnson doesn’t think his work rate is good enough, which I’d disagree with – or it’s a case of his face doesn’t fit.

I know one thing for certain – with 20 minutes remaining on Saturday I’d have loved to see him come, and I’d have been significantly more confident of us getting something from the game if he had.

Sunderland v Tranmere Rovers - Papa John’s Trophy Final
Should Maguire be given more game time?
Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

The result against Charlton is massively disappointing but for me at least, it was entirely expected. Despite the gushing articles on Roker Report recently, I haven’t thought we’ve been convincing for the last few games so a defeat has looked like coming.

I’m happy to stand up and admit that Johnson has done better than I expected since taking over but let’s face it, he has the nickname of ‘Streaky’ for a reason! I still believe that we would have been better off with the Cowleys in charge. I confess that I completely forgot about Adkins when we were appointing a new manager but as soon as he was named Charlton boss, I thought it was an astute appointment.

If things go to form for Streaky, we will now see a few defeats and I expect one of them to come at the hands of Blackpool. In the two upcoming fixtures against them, I think four points would be fantastic, but I think three or even two is more likely. I wouldn’t be totally surprised if we also lost to Hull. Realistically, we now need Hull or Peterborough to drop points because we certainly will and honestly, I really don’t fancy facing Blackpool, Portsmouth or Charlton in the play-offs.

Putting aside the mistake of appointing Johnson, I think there are a few things working against us.

Firstly, is Johnson’s determination to play Power regardless of all other factors. He’s not a right back, he’s not a defender and all things being equal, he’s not one of our best midfielders so he has to be dropped. When we have Bailey Wright available again, will O’Nien be kept out of the midfield because Johnson always has to play Power, or will we continue to use Power at right back so that O’Nien can play in midfield as apparently, Johnson believes that Power should play at all costs?

Secondly, loaning Embleton to Blackpool was a massive own goal as he’s been instrumental in their form and has helped put Blackpool in a position to hurt us. I thought at the time it was a stupid move and nothing since has changed my mind on that.

In the Charlton match I thought the team selection was absolutely bizarre! If Hume is fit, why didn’t he start? If we have a fit, international right back available, why are we playing Power out of position? If Jones is fit, why aren’t we starting with him? If O’Brien isn’t helping Wyke get goals, why is he on the pitch? If Wyke has hit a dry spell, why do we continue to play him?

Johnson did not put out our strongest team, he put out a severely compromised team and against teams like Charlton, that won’t be enough. It also won’t be enough against Hull or Blackpool.

I still believe we have the players to secure promotion, but I don’t have the same level of faith in Johnson. I hope I’m wrong.

Andrew White

Ed’s note [Martin]: I think it’s really easy to be critical in the aftermath of a disappointing game, and I have to say I disagree with some of what you’ve written Andrew! Of course, we’re all entitled to our opinion, so I’ll do my best to offer my view on the points you’ve raised.

Frankly, I think it’s odd to say Johnson’s appointment was a mistake. What evidence is that based on? We have improved our points gained in games he’s been in charge, while the tactical stuff we’ve seen from him, suggests it’s been a good appointment. He wasn’t my first choice, but – overall – the improvement in points accumulated and league position since he arrived has been very impressive - however performances haven’t been too consistent.

He’s had COVID to deal with, pretty much a whole defence out through injury, as well as a transfer window during which we were in the changeover period of ownership. Add to that the unbalanced squad moulded by Phil Parkinson to play one way, and one way only, and he’s done really well as far as I am concerned.

He’s not perfect, no manager is. And I do think he made mistakes on Saturday – but it’s so easy to say in hindsight. If Wyke puts away his first half chances we’re praising the manager and everything’s rosy.

When it comes to Power, he’s been decent in the main at right back, and I think he’s grown as a captain and a midfielder in Johnson’s time in charge. However, I do think his limitations there have been shown up in the past couple of games, and it’ll be interesting when everyone is fit as where Power fits in. We desperately need Wright back in the team, and O’Nien may well go into midfield. If he does, he’ll add more of a forward threat.

As far as Embleton is concerned, in the longer term he’ll be a far better player for us from his experience at Blackpool. That’s the motivation behind his loan. Would it have been better for him and for the club long-term to have him sat on our bench for the season? We’ve done that with other players and – rightly – criticised the club for it.

Ideally, I’d have liked him to be given a chance in the team, but evidently the football hierarchy didn’t think he’d be a regular starter. Blackpool are a good team – not a one man team, and I’m pleased to see him do well there.

I do agree with you to an extent about the team selection on Saturday in regards to Hume and Jones, but there will likely be sports science or tactical reasons behind them not starting – I can’t believe it was a like-for-like decision. Hume and Jones have both have been out with serious muscle injuries and we have a boat load of games coming up. Likewise with McLaughlin, he’s been out injured too.

Finally, we have published a number of positive articles over recent weeks, and rightly so. There have also been some more pragmatic and cautious ones. In the grand scheme of things, there’s plenty to be positive about both on and off the pitch – more so than there has been for five or six years. One defeat – in a game, by the way, that eight out of ten times we’d have won with that performance – doesn’t change that in the slightest.

Keep the faith!

Lincoln City v Blackpool - Sky Bet League One
Did we score an own goal by sending Embleton off to Blackpool?
Photo by James Holyoak/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Woke up this morning and I felt it like every Sunderland fan. Charlton bloody Charlton. Even my Finnish son in law in Finland warned me. Sick as a parrot. Speechless

Anthony DeGiovanni

Ed’s note [Martin]: I haven’t forgiven them for 1998 yet, never mind anything else! Let’s hope we don’t meet them in the play offs...

Sunderland v Charlton Athletic - Sky Bet League One
Bloody Charlton!
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

MY assessment of Saturday: I’m afraid Gooch offers nothing at the moment. McGeady has to stop going back to virtually our box to get the ball, Winchester was not at the races.

Scowen was my man of the match, it’s only a pity that he keeps on trying to score between the rugby posts.

Get back to what we were doing four matches ago – McGeady on the wing, cross to Wyke, goal – simple as.

I wonder if we need Wright back to bark some orders?

Frustrating again, but we always know that what happens when you are a Sunderland supporter!

Anthony Lynn

Ed’s note [Martin]: Gooch is struggling at present for consistent, effective performances, but even when he’s not playing well he’s likely to score or create something. However, he wouldn’t be in my first eleven at present.

The McGeady situation is interesting. People often say he should play more centrally, and I can see why – he looks as if he should be effective there. But he rarely is. If you look at the tactics articles we’ve done recently, McGeady’s average position is very central, and that limits his ability to get wide and get the ball in.

I do think some of that is due to us protecting the back four more than we’d usually need to, so hopefully when Wright and Hume get back we may see more attacking threat. As I mentioned above, I think Wright’s return is going to be critically important. I just hope he’s back sooner rather than later.

Sunderland v Charlton Athletic - Sky Bet League One
Get McGeady back on the wing, says Anthony
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Lee Johnson’s first mistake on Saturday – Power is not a right back, McLaughlin should have played without a doubt and Hume should have started.

Gooch is definitely not worth a starting place in place of Jones. Let’s get two up front and go for it.

The selection Lee you got wrong, the substitutions were a balls up. Let’s move on and upwards.

If we can play like the first half against Peterborough we will not lose many games till the end of the season. It’s time for the lads to step up to the plate.

The Blackpool games, Embleton will be a big miss for them. Stop Honeyman and that’s Hull beat.

We beat the Wembley hoodoo this season, there are 21 points up for grabs – a little bit of luck is needed. There’s no excuses – these players should thrive on the pressure of it all.

We will see in these seven games what Lee Johnson is made of.

Let’s get the tactics right, play players if fit in their right positions and attack teams – let them worry about us, not the opposite.

All we can do is bag 21 points and if other results go our way job done. I think Lee Johnson is the man to do this. If not it’s the lottery of the play offs and then it’s back in our hands.

Mark Wild

Ed’s note [Martin]: On the surface I agree with you regarding the team selection Mark, but I’m sure there will have been sports science or tactical reasons behind Saturday’s choice, rather than it being a like for like choice. For example, Johnson has noted that Jones’ lack of tracking back leaves us exposed, and Gooch was likely selected because of his work rate and defensive capability, especially when Power is at right back. Charlton’s left winger looked dangerous, and Gooch’s tracking back – especially first half – was impressive.

The substitutions were a mess, and likely contributed directly to the second Charlton goal. Hopefully he’ll learn from that.

If we play to our ability we’ll go very close. We’ve not left ourselves much margin for error – less so after Saturday. But, if you’d said a few weeks ago that if we win our last seven games we’d go up I’d have snapped your hand off!

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