As another rollercoaster of a season supporting Sunderland has (almost) ended, and the fate of the team lies in a play-off clash against Michael Appleton’s Lincoln City.
What a season it has been. After an incredibly forgettable early couple of months under the dark and dreary stewardship of Phil Parkinson, Sunderland redeemed themselves somewhat under Lee Johnson.
Johnson’s arrival kicked the team into the life, and at one stage talk of an unlikely automatic promotion push was rife.
One of the most memorable parts of this season was the frankly incredible goalscoring exploits by our number nine, Charlie Wyke.
Wyke’s goalscoring prowess has taken almost every single fan by surprise, including this writer who stated on a season preview podcast that Wyke would struggle to hit ten goals this season!
Acknowledging all of this, I still struggle to be completely sold on Wyke as a player.
The continuous nagging doubt in my head surrounds his overall game and I succumb to one of the football world’s most tedious questions.
‘What does he offer other than scoring goals?’
As I write these words, I am cursing and cringing at myself knowing that I am talking about a player who almost single-handedly has put us in the position we are in.
The man has scored 25 league goals and some (myself included) are still not completely happy. I know. I get it.
Is this what a Sunderland fan is? Are we always picking out the faults rather than praising?
Reflecting on what has been a rather insipid end to the season for the lads, there were particular issues that began to appear consistently. Especially with the attack.
The over-reliance on individual players, namely McGeady and Wyke, became a glaring conundrum. Not for the first time with McGeady.
Akin to Sunderland under Jack Ross, instead of expressing their own individual ability, the responsibility was shifted onto the shoulders of the Republic of Ireland international.
McGeady, by his nature, never shrugged responsibility and consistently attempted to pose problems for opposition defences. His mesmerising feet left defenders dizzy and in a daze as his mid-season return to the team coincided with Charlie Wyke hitting his unlikely goal trail.
This unlikely duo, as we all know now, was the major reason for the upturn in Sunderland’s form. They tallied up an incredible amount of assists and goals between them that sometimes looked like they were genuinely unstoppable.
The problem with football, much like life, is that nothing good lasts forever.
Have we been sussed?
As opposition managers cottoned on and found ways to limit the influence of Aiden McGeady, the goal return of Charlie Wyke began to flounder somewhat.
The life of a striker is a thankless task. Full of ups and downs. When the goals were going in, there were very few negative words being said. However, when the goals began to dry, the knives began to sharpen for Wyke.
The overall contribution of Sunderland’s number 9 was shifted into the spotlight. Fans were looking to see what else he offered. At times it was okay, however, for the majority, it was a little bit of a struggle.
Wyke’s game by nature is the target man game. Crosses into the box, hold up play, winning the aerial duels. A game he was very successful at.
As teams became aware of this, Sunderland had to show something different.
In the main, they didn’t. The fact of the matter was that Wyke almost looked a little lost up top in some games.
His pressing was not quick enough, he did not stretch the defence with runs in behind and he isn’t the type to take his man on.
It can be argued that his style of play is one-dimensional, as was the style of Sunderland in these games.
Did he influence the game enough by bringing his other attackers into the game? I do not think so.
This is not intended as a slight on Wyke and the incredible season he has had. It is probably more of a question for the manager.
Yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it should be asked, did we show enough variation or flexibility in our attack?
Time for Johnson to spring a surprise?
Ross Stewart’s performance against Plymouth was so good it was nearly frustrating. After many substitute appearances, Stewart was given a rare start.
He took the opportunity with both hands and put in a really positive showing, offering a different option that probably should have been utilised well before it was.
Stewart was ready and willing. He was constantly on the move - stretching the defenders and keeping them guessing. He also nabbed himself a goal, showing some deceptively quick feet to get in behind of the Plymouth defence.
In addition to this, it appeared that he complemented the role of the other Sunderland attackers in that game. Jack Diamond, Lynden Gooch and Jordan Jones excelled as they had a striker with a little more movement who gave them an option that they did not have before.
The players could be a little more direct and run into the box as space was vacated by the Scot.
This was a suitable game for all of the above. It brought the best out in them and, although this was only just one game, it does show the potential of an alternative threat. It can be something different that can spark success.
The question has to be asked as to whether we may get more out of more players with a different option up front.
Stewart missed our final league game against Northampton with a hamstring tear but Lee Johnson has yet to rule him out of our first play-off game against Lincoln, suggesting that ‘he is presenting well’ and ‘feeling good’, giving hope that he will return to fitness.
With a supposed behind-closed-doors game played this past weekend, we can only hope that it gave the Scot an opportunity to sharpen up before Wednesday night.
With just under days to one of our biggest games in recent times, it gives Lee Johnson much to think about. Lincoln will certainly be preparing for the threat of Charlie Wyke.
While acknowledging the fantastic success of him this season, the correct attacking option for these games might not be the obvious one.