0 wins in 3 matches for Lee Johnson’s Sunderland - the club simply have to invest to keep our promotion chances alive!
How things change within the space of two weeks.
Since looking like going to the top of League One after Ross Stewart’s late goal against Wycombe, Sunderland have since been stung by a 98th-minute equaliser and an embarrassing hat-trick by a former player at home, all followed by yet another collapse against a 10-man Accrington side.
Yes, Sunderland are hurt by injuries to key players and Covid cases, but the trend of being vulnerable defensively has existed since the season began.
The reality is that Sunderland's lack of depth is currently telling. No fit senior right-back, no commanding centre-back, no depth in central midfield... and can you imagine what would happen if Ross Stewart picked up an injury?
Admittedly, Patrick Roberts would be a welcomed addition, but if Trai Hume is to be eased into life on Wearside, it still leaves us with no fit right-back, likely meaning Carl Winchester cannot play in midfield where he is needed.
In my opinion, the club’s hierarchy simply must strengthen during this window. Luke O’Nien and Jordan Willis likely won’t kick a ball again this season. Aiden McGeady, Nathan Broadhead and Niall Huggins are all out long-term, then you have Corry Evans who you just can’t bank on staying fit.
We are desperate for a commanding centre-back who is dominant aerially, a midfielder of similar nature who can impose himself physically and add balance to the more creative Dan Neil, as well as support for Ross Stewart, as if he were to pick up an injury, we simply can’t rely on Aiden O’Brien to score a similar amount.
When the likes of Wigan are investing and Rotherham retained most of their Championship squad, it is imperative that Sunderland don’t stand still and gamble that we have enough to go up.
We may have gotten away with not adding depth at the start of the season, but we certainly aren’t now and we will pay for it should it not be rectified.
I never trust Sunderland in a winning position to hold a one-goal lead – does Lee Johnson need to improve his game management?
Fleetwood away, Shrewsbury away, Wycombe away and now Accrington away. That is eight points lost from winning positions, one from 2-0 up, one with three minutes to hold on and two against 10 men.
I think every Sunderland fan can agree that our side always looks vulnerable defensively. We lack physicality and are prone to give away easily preventable goals.
How many times does someone make a ridiculous error or we are second best to second balls dropping?
Is it complacency? Is it pressure? Is it inexperience? For me, it is poor game management.
This Sunderland side know how to play attractive football and attack sides, but defensively we are a soft touch and I don’t think our lead protection is anywhere near good enough for a promotion side.
Lee Johnson has done some excellent things to the style of play since joining Sunderland, but a key criticism is the lack of balance.
Yes we pass the ball well and the football is far better to watch, but you have to balance that with being able to adapt tactically for different scenarios. Currently, when it comes up to seeing games out and keeping clean sheets, I think any side in this league will fancy scoring against Sunderland.
As well as that, Johnson also failed to use his substitutes effectively when some of our team were clearly struggling for energy. The likes of Dennis Cirkin and Leon Dajaku could easily have been replaced like for like with Denver Hume and Jack Diamond.
Bringing players on who are battling for a first-team place to inject energy would have been welcomed, Diamond especially who could have stretched their tired defenders.
As a whole, I think the management and players need to vastly improve how we operate when we are leading close matches if we want to achieve promotion.
Tom Flanagan endured a very difficult game against Accrington. Does he have to prove to Sunderland fans that his purple patch at the start of this season wasn’t just a fluke?
At the start of the season, Tom Flanagan looked like he had turned a corner at Sunderland, he appeared a new man compared to the player who had struggled to really impress throughout his first three years at the club.
Having said that, throughout the past three games that progress has disappeared. Against Wycombe, he was bullied for large parts, against Lincoln his error led to Winchester’s red card and that was followed by a failure to stop his opponent going through against Accrington.
Throughout the match, the Northern Irishman was bailed out by 18-year-old Callum Doyle and it was hard to believe that he was meant to be the leader on the pitch for Sunderland.
Since Sunderland were forced to move back to a four, we have been a mess at the back, particularly when Bailey Wright was missing for two games.
It is incredibly worrying, as the club has conceded the most goals in the top nine in League One and are desperate for defensive reinforcements.
Flanagan successfully met the challenge of keeping Fred Alves, who has now returned to West Ham, out of the side, but his challenge now is to bounce back from these awful three games.
He must prove that he has turned a corner this season and not allow the past three games to ruin his progress.
Sunderland must improve defensively to achieve promotion and given our lack of depth at the back, Flanagan has to play his part in that improvement.