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Swansea v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Talking Points: “Flat first half costs Sunderland in Swansea - we need our strikers back!”

“Sunderland’s lack of strikers haunted the team once again as they were seen off by Russell Martin’s South Wales pass-masters,” writes Mitch Marshall.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Back to basics backfired

None of Sunderland’s cast of young guns like Amad, Abdoullah Ba or Jewison Bennette started against Swansea this weekend. Instead, Tony Mowbray opted to revert to the same side which drew 0-0 with Preston a week ago. I don’t think it worked.

Swansea got right on top of us from the off, and we were lucky on a couple of early occasions not to go behind. A goal against us began to feel inevitable, and so it was.

In my eyes we looked very dour in that first half and I think there’s a general consensus that it was the worst 45 minutes we’ve played this season.

Swansea controlled the ball too comfortably, and while we may feel harshly done by to have conceded a second goal on the stroke of half time, I don’t think it was particularly unfair as a reflection of the game to that point.

Swansea City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images

Ultimately the players mentioned above did come on and I think we looked more lively for it, albeit Mowbray’s decision not to make any substitutes at half time was vindicated by Jack Clarke’s goal. We showed that Swansea are not as invulnerable as they looked at times in the first half, and we ended up rueing not getting into them earlier.

With Corry Evans suspended for our next game, we may have to rethink our setup somewhat in order to avoid a repeat of such a flat first half when match day comes around again.


We definitely need a striker

The jury was still out on how good Ellis Simms is when he got injured.

My God how I’d love him back now though.

Without a focal point, we become too one dimensional at times. Our football becomes dependent almost exclusively on playing delightful passing interchanges, attacking midfielders and wingers crisscrossing like the lines on a tube map.

We actually do this pleasingly often, but even when we do it often leads to nothing when we get to the edge of the box. By the end of today’s game we were relying on a lot of speculative shots from outside the box, most of which got blocked straight away.

Also, playing a possession-based team like Swansea shows another reason we need a striker. Lacking an out ball, we were ceding possession and territory back to the Jacks far too cheaply, although this wasn’t helped by an unusually high number of shoddy passes from the Lads today. Plus, when we did have the ball, without that focal point we were too blunt and had few options to put the opposition under pressure in their own third.

Until Simms makes his, hopefully miraculously speedy, recovery, we should play more balls over the top like the one which led to Jack Clarke’s goal. It’s something we don’t do enough of for a team which now has quite a bit of pace across its forward line. It can be a direct way to score goals and helps relieve pressure on the defence and midfield at times too.

That said, it’s obvious the sooner SAS are back, the better.

Reading v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Youthful over-exuberance

Not to add another bitter note, but at times we probably saw the downside of having a very young squad.

Elliot Embleton could potentially have been sent off for stupidly lashing out at a Swansea player in the second half, while Lynden Gooch kept up his reputation for bellowing into referees’ faces when Jack Clarke dived in the box at the game’s death.

Swansea City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images

The latter is something which has annoyed me for a while.

By all means let a referee know when they get a decision wrong. Effing and blinding in their face, though, seems more likely to produce a card in your direction than lasting sympathy from the official.

Gooch is a particular culprit for this; I forgive him on the basis that it shows his passion, but I don’t think it does him any favours.

It didn’t harm us especially on Saturday, but it does show that as this team matures it will have to learn to temper its wilder side in the heat of battle.

I love this team, but its enthusiasm needs to be channelled positively rather than morphing into frustration and pettiness.


Quality is still there

More encouragingly, Sunderland overcame a rotten first half to put Swansea right on the back foot for large periods of the second half. We even scored a goal!

Jack Clarke’s finish was a beauty, and shut me right up when I was screaming for him to square the ball instead. Kudos, Jack.

Swansea v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

More broadly, we played some great stuff at times in the second half and pressed with far more intensity than had been the case in the first 45.

Maybe 2-1 was a fair result, but I don’t think the Swans could’ve complained too much if we’d nicked a third draw in the space of a week.

Whatever Mowbray said to the players at half time had its intended effect, and it was good to see that a potentially demoralising first half didn’t sour the team’s general enthusiasm to play expansive football.

We need to bottle that now, and take it forward into our game against Wigan next weekend.

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