It’s a combination of factors I’d say.
Last year in League One it was a slog watching our home games because practically every team that turned up at the Stadium of Light came to spoil the game and sit behind the ball, and whilst it hasn’t quite been that extreme on our return to the Championship, we’ve still seen a lot of the same.
The big difference though is that the quality of the teams coming to spoil the game and waste time is much better, so it’s even harder to break them down and win points. We have to somehow find a way around that.
Which leads me on to my next point - we simply haven’t had the players available to change up our style of play!
Most of the lads who have been long-term injured have height and a physical presence, something we’ve been sorely lacking when duking it out in tight games at home.
That’s left us with the small, quick, technical lads who are probably better suited to playing away from home, where the teams we face are more likely to retain the ball, attack and leave gaps in behind.
The other thing, and I feel like it’d be unjust if I didn’t mention this, is the atmosphere at home games.
It sometimes feels like when the momentum in games is going against us there are fans who are quick to turn on the team on the pitch - this just doesn’t happen away from home, but at the SOL it’s prevalent and it can’t help the team on the pitch.
I think in the main our support has been immense, and the bigger crowds this season have been great to see.
I just hope that after a period of reflection people might realise that some of the reaction to things, particularly in the recent loss to Cardiff, was extreme and that these young lads aren’t going to thrive in an atmosphere where it feels like people aren’t all the way behind them.
That said, it’s all a symptom of the first two things I mentioned, and if we can get players back fit who give us the option to play a different way, plus find out a way to beat teams that come to sit back and frustrate us, then there won’t be any issues for people to moan about and we’ll surely see some better results and performances at the Stadium of Light when the action resumes on December 3rd.
Mitch Marshall says...
As a variation on a theme developing here, the way away teams play, or in fact don’t play, at the Stadium of Light obviously contributes to our below-par home form.
One particular thing I’d suggest is the refereeing weakness which contributes to that. I think referees feel the need to not be seen to bow to home crowds.
On the one hand, I think some referees have been relatively generous to us in some away games because of this. Stone’s fans, for instance, were fuming about the officiating when we beat them at their place this season. I didn’t think they had a great game either, but we did probably get away with some of the consistent tactical fouling that other teams inflict on us at the SoL.
That said, I think due to the stature of Sunderland as a club, the size of the stadium and our fan base, referees feel this even more keenly when we play at home. Combine this with the aforementioned anti-football tactics of some opposition, and it is clear to see that we face additional hurdles at home. As a team who like to play with the ball, and are now also quite nippy on the break, tactical fouls and time-wasting hurt us really badly at times.
Unfortunately, I’m not really sure there’s a solution to this. We probably just need to wise up a bit, and take advantage of it away from home.
As a side note, I fully agree with the other lads that our home atmosphere could be improved.
Ever since the away fans were moved and our most vociferous supporters partly torn away from the South West corner by the creation of the Roker End, the atmosphere has often felt flat. Our passionate away fans who make so much noise across the country come from all different parts of the ground, making it harder to get songs going at home matches.
Again, there’s not much we can do because people like to sit where they sit - I for one wouldn’t move to the Roker End as I prefer the view and the mates around me where I am.
So, just as our players have to make the most of an occasionally bad do at home, so we also need to make a concerted effort to keep chants flowing all game long. Ross Stewart has said how much our support gees him up, so it really will make a difference.
Let’s just not do it by getting a drum, please.
Malc Dugdale says…
There are loads of reasons we can assume for this, but the main ones for me are as follows…
Away from home, the pressure on the players is perhaps perceived as lower. This probably lets them relax a bit more - though if our current away form continues, that may turn around pretty soon.
The fans attend away games in great numbers - they are the best in the EFL and better than many clubs at the top level. They are hugely supportive and they sing their hearts out from the pre-match warmups right through to the final whistle.
The crowd at the Stadium of Light seems to have a contingent of boo boys and extremely vocal armchair experts when we don’t play as well, which flies in the face of the fact we are meant to be fans - derived from fanatics - of our club and the boys in red and white.
There are also fewer fans leaving early when we play away, which simply has to have an effect on the lads at home, especially the younger players in the team.
We need to do all we can to turn this around, because without good home form, we’ll have less chance of finishing in mid-table or even higher this season, and pushing on in subsequent seasons, too.
Phil West says…
Personally, I was convinced that the dynamic would be exactly the opposite this season - that our home form would be our banker, and that our away form might be slightly ropey. However, the opposite has happened, and while it’s been fabulous to see us picking up victories at the likes of Stoke and Birmingham, I’m curious as to why it is and how we might remedy it.
I do think the weight of expectation that comes from playing at the Stadium of Light can have a detrimental effect on our players. On the road, fervent backing and the desire to silence a home crowd has spurred us on (see Alex Pritchard’s goal against Huddersfield, for example), and the endeavour we’ve often shown during away matches has been great.
However, it goes without saying that we do need to start picking up results at home.
At times this season we have looked inhibited and nervous, usually if we don’t find a rhythm right from the start. This in turn can make the crowd edgy and that can have a knock-on effect. If we could play with more freedom and confidence, like we did in the first half against Burnley and against Rotherham, that would be encouraging.
We have the players to play an exciting and dynamic style of football. We’ve often seen it away from Wearside, and if the players can harness, rather than be cowed by the sight and sound of 40,000 home supporters, we really could be onto something special.
Kev Barker says...
A big part of the equation is that visiting teams have come to Wearside, sat back, and played for a point. Even the likes of Norwich came and counter-attacked, and nicked points rather than playing us off the park.
We’ve been shown more respect than I expected and have been forced to try and break teams down, which has been difficult with our injuries up top.
That leads me to the second reason: injuries.
Without Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms, we have been reliant on wingers and players with pace who suit a counter-attacking style. This works well when we play away, as the home team has to come out and attack and can leave themselves open to our often scintillating breakaway goals.
Once our forwards are back, we will be a force at home again and can use the lessons learned to continue our decent away form.