Sunderland are currently paying for our more physical and aerially dominant players being injured!
Following Sunderland’s second-half collapse against Burnley at the weekend, questions were once again raised about our lack of depth up front, but I think our main downfall currently is the lack of physicality and height due to injuries.
When you look at the side that started the match, losing the likes of Dan Ballard, Aji Alese, Ellis Simms and Ross Stewart makes an already short more technical team lose key winners in the air and players who add physicality.
Tony Mowbray’s side have conceded from set pieces in three of the past four matches and I think that teams know that this is currently a major weak spot.
Our demise on Saturday all begins with Corry Evans losing out to Burnley’s Taylor Harwood-Bellis and we concede a very soft goal by simply losing two headers.
In Danny Batth and Dennis Cirkin, only two of Sunderland’s outfield side were over six feet, so it is no surprise that we thrive on the front foot where our more technical players can shine, but set pieces are something that repeatedly causes us trouble.
Across this season Sunderland have always been in games and conceding four shots from four on target was cruel and difficult to take, but one thing repeatedly is hurting us for me is our lack of aerial presence and physicality, which the return of our injured players will only aid.
Having conceded 9 goals in 4 games, is it time for Bailey Wright to come in?
Having stated above my concern about Sunderland’s lack of physicality and aerial presence, Bailey Wright might just be what Mowbray needs to add stability.
Despite being the most like-for-like swap for Lynden Gooch, I was surprised to see Trai Hume start given the level of inexperience and lack of physicality in Sunderland’s team.
Last season, the Australian international was the man who played a key role in changing Sunderland’s defensive fortunes around after being used frequently as a substitute, and I think he could do that in the short term prior to the World Cup before Dan Ballard returns.
I think the reason Luke O’Nien has been preferred this season mainly in a three is that his distribution on the ball is far better and he possesses more pace, but when you start to concede goals, having more traditionally styled experienced defenders who do the basics excellently can be priceless.
To add more stability in Alese and Ballard’s absence against Luton, Mowbray could opt for Wright, Batth and O’Nien as a three with Cirkin and Gooch on either side.
With Cirkin having more confidence going forward in recent games, that would be a more balanced back five and hopefully could see Sunderland keep a clean sheet once again.
If you were Mowbray, how would you set up defensively against Luton?
Is Danny Batth Sunderland’s most consistent defender since our Premier League era?
Awarded Man of the Match by Andy on Player Ratings on Saturday, Danny Batth has been the unsung hero for Sunderland this season and for me is easily our most consistent central defender since we dropped out of the Premier League.
The ex-Stoke defender has come a long way since that horror own goal in our 6-0 thrashing at Bolton, but he epitomises just what Sunderland have needed in central defence for so long.
Batth is not your modern fast defender who can whip a 70-yard through ball, but that’s not what we need from him. After years of seeing error prone defenders who frequently make criminal mistakes, it’s brilliant to have a defender who simply wins his tackles, his aerial duels and his one-vs-one battles.
On Saturday Batth did a fantastic job in handling the experienced Ashley Barnes, a player who has played Premier League football for the past six seasons, forcing Vincent Kompany to remove him at half-time.
Because of this, Burnley opted to go more down the flanks where they found better fortunes and I can’t think of the match this season where Batth at least has not been a solid six.
By doing the basics so well and being reliable, Batth enables Sunderland to play more ball-playing defenders around him when we play a three, such as Luke O’Nien.
Having had to endure the performances of Glenn Loovens, Jake Clarke-Salter, Tyias Browning, Alim Ozturk, Jack Baldwin and more over the past five years, I can honestly say it is a pleasure to have Batth as part of our defence.