Looking at Saturday’s poor (yes, indeed very poor) defeat to Cardiff City, it is perhaps, again, necessary to consider how Sunderland’s midfield conundrum has shifted, again. In Sunderland’s last six matches, Tony Mowbray has attempted five different midfield combinations on our trips to Blackburn, Luton, Huddersfield, and a couple of journeys back to Wearside.
Yes, that statistic does show our strength and depth in that area, but arguably Mowbray has struggled to point his finger at a winning combination in the middle of the park.
In certain moments in the first halves of these matches, the Black Cats have lacked any control in midfield the games and ultimately shifted upon second-half changes by the Sunderland gaffer to improve the central areas.
And without Corry Evans in midfield, Sunderland seem lost: our passing is all too short and lazy, and composure drifts away far too easily. We simply look like a weakened side without the Northern Ireland international.
But, that said, Mowbray can’t expect the 32-year-old to start every game, especially three matches within the space of eight days. Evans started against Luton Town last weekend and Huddersfield on Wednesday night, but at the weekend, our ‘gaffer opted to leave him out of the side to preserve the midfielder’s minutes.
Without him, we seemed out of place, and it seemed that as the first half ticked on, the chance that we would see him earlier significantly increased. Off the ball, Neil and Ba couldn’t take the sting out of the match, whilst in possession, they struggled to push the team onto the front foot.
Neil was caught up in the match from minute one, and almost gifted the Bluebirds with an opening before 10 minutes was on the clock, but some clever defending and a poor finish meant that Cardiff weren’t put into a one-goal lead.
Meanwhile, Ba was culpable for some loose passes and seems to need more game time to help him bed into the action, but with a long break ahead for the World Cup break, any momentum will be firmly halted.
So, when the 57th-minute double substitution came from Tony Mowbray, you could almost feel a sigh of relief inside the lower bowl of the Stadium of Light. Evans and Pritchard were both introduced into the action, and whilst Cardiff were not pushing forward as often, both additions seemed to push us on in the attack.
This may soon become yet another midfield combination tried from the off – potentially the sixth in seven matches if Mowbray opts for it against Birmingham on Friday night.
The Black Cats certainly have numbers in these areas but, for now, if and when Evens is out of action, Mowbray is left with a big conundrum.
Over the last five games, Ba has thrown his hat into the ring, Neil kept his name in the frame, whilst Embleton and Pritchard both maintained their status in this team. Edouard Michut is someone that fans will want to see more of after the World Cup. Will it be sixth time lucky?
Friday night’s trip to Birmingham will be yet another chance for the Sunderland head coach to trial a midfield duo, whilst a winter trip to Dubai will improve team bonding and strengthen the partnerships across the park.