Another week has passed in the life of Sunderland AFC and once again we find out the “glass half full” people and those who sit in the “glass half empty” camp. There’s no right or wrong by the way - it’s merely pointing out that it’s a strange season, and it is going to continue to be confusing.
We’ve lost one in five, but won one in five. We’ve scored six in our last three on the road, but drew two successive blanks at the Stadium of Light. See what I mean? It’s a bit confusing and ultimately depends on how you want to view things.
Regardless of where you land, I don’t think anyone can deny that one or two issues have been highlighted by recent performances and by far the most popular topic up for “debate” is the striker issue, or lack thereof.
Our home performances against two bruising, uncompromising sides in Preston and Blackpool, were okay. We faced two sides who know what they’re doing and organise themselves in such a way, and how they set up to face us came as no surprise.
We had the chances to get our noses in front and yes, a striker might have been on the end of one of those chances, although I still believe that it wasn’t the main issue. The biggest issue was having an option to play it over the opposition midfield.
Even when you look at Jack Clarke’s goal against Rotherham, it came from a long ball out that Ross Stewart plucked out of the air to roll the ball to Clarke. It simply provides an option to mix things up and there’s no denying we miss that variation at the moment.
The players have responded well in general, but the first half display in South Wales was arguably the worst half of football we have seen this season from the Lads. Nothing was clicking when we had possession of the football and out of possession, we appeared to make things very easy for what was, to be fair, an impressive looking Swansea City.
Second half was better and had we taken more advantage of a spell following Jack Clarke’s strike, we may have been looking at a fourth successive draw. After that we huffed and puffed but never really threatened, but give credit to the Lads for getting back in the game which was something that looked pretty unlikely at the break.
The likes of Matete, Ba, Amad and of course, Bennette, have made an impact from the bench recently and it wouldn’t be a shock if one or two of these players saw more game time in the starting XI in upcoming fixtures. Some of this could be to potentially provide us with a different approach, especially in the final third, but also to give certain players a break to recharge the batteries, as there are one or two who look like they could do with one.
We’ve got off to a solid start this season, but dips in form are expected, so this is where the rest of the squad plays its part.
On that solid start I was talking about, we currently sit 11th in the Championship with over quarter of the season played, four points off the playoffs and six above the drop. Everyone will have different expectations, and the start to the season might have increased that expectation for some, but in my book, this is about par.
Anything better would be great and a bonus this season, anything worse wouldn’t be a disaster as long as we’re not dragged into any dogfight at the bottom.
We’ve done this against a backdrop of a long-term injury to a big new signing at the back in Dan Ballard, along with Dennis Cirkin, in addition to the blow of losing Stewart and Simms, which makes it look even more impressive and provides optimism we will only go in one direction once these players return to the side.
Sitting 11th at the moment also reminds me that it is the position we ended up finishing during the only other season we returned to the second tier from the third back in 1988-89, so I’d thought we’d have a quick look at how we were fairing back then.
On this day back in 1988 we sat 20th in the table where two wins from the previous three had actually provided some light relief. Looking forward, which might be something for us to remember in the present day considering how tight the table is, by late-January we rose to 6th to flirt with the playoffs, before eventually finishing mid-table.
The Championship is a crazy league, and there’s plenty of football to be played yet.
For those thinking otherwise, this isn’t a review of a re-release of the Fleetwood Mac album from 1977, it’s regarding the speculation around the possibility of bringing in another striker.
It makes sense that it’s something that the club would rather avoid if possible, and the circumstances around why we need a frontman means that it isn’t easy.
What type of player would want to sit behind Ellis Simms and Ross Stewart in the pecking order when they return? Would we then have a player on the books who we wouldn’t necessarily need after that point?
There are seven fixtures remaining until the World Cup and it would be a surprise if we did dip our toe into the market.
Another surprise would be if Dennis Cirkin returned to Spurs if the odd report was to be believed. Cirkin was in great form before picking up his injury but looking at it from Tottenham’s point of view, would a full season in League One be enough to consider him good enough to play a part in their first team squad this year?
If he returns from injury and plays out the rest of the season in good form then it might be something Spurs would consider, but now? Although stranger things have happened in football.
“He was a nightmare to be honest...”
If anyone missed it last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Danny Graham in the build-up to our game, which you can listen to here.
Huge credit to Danny for talking to us and being brutally honest about his time with the Lads during a pretty crazy era with big erm... characters that we had at one time or another at the club.
Conversations like this one do remind you that we as fans never really know what is happening behind the scenes and it’s generally fascinating to hear a point of view from someone who experienced it.
We were very grateful for Danny joining us and we wish him all the best for the future.