The failed experiment of Dan Neil & Abdoullah Ba starting together displayed the importance of Corry Evans!
When I first saw the teamsheet on Saturday, I felt excited by the array of attacking more technical midfielders Sunderland had in the team, but I also felt it was a gamble playing such an open midfield.
I understood Tony Mowbray’s thinking given how well Neil and Ba played against Huddersfield in the second half, but it ended up being a disastrous decision as Sunderland’s midfield was simply an open door.
Both young midfielders are more box-to-box style players who like to get on the ball and advance the team forward, but neither were able to emulate the crucial role that Evans does to protect the team.
Neil once again failed to learn his lesson for trying to dribble in dangerous positions (see Burnley not long ago) and should have put the lads 1-0 down, plus Ba misplaced a simple ball which resulted in us conceding.
Once Evans was introduced, he instantly added a calming presence and protected our defence.
He has rightly been criticised at times during his tenure on Wearside, but this season the Northern Irishman has played a selfless role to enable Sunderland’s more talented players to make things happen, whilst he sits deep, keeps his passing simple and makes key tackles/interceptions.
Sometimes you have to see a team without a player to see their significance and that is most definitely the case with Corry Evans.
Should Tony Mowbray have been more ruthless and changed things earlier?
After 20-30 minutes I think we all could see that Sunderland’s game plan was wrong and needed to change, yet the manager persisted to keep things the same.
The reason why? I think given the age of both Neil and Ba, Mowbray perhaps did not want to be cut-throat and crush their confidence, but I think the reality is that if he had introduced Evans after 30 minutes, or even half-time at least, Sunderland may have at least drawn.
It appears that Mowbray provided Neil and Ba with 10 more minutes to come back out and turn their game around, but in hindsight, it came across as naive given that nothing changed and Sunderland went 1-0 down due to one of their mistakes.
I understand that with the club’s new approach, we have to be seen as a team who provide young players with opportunities, but that cannot be to the detriment of winning points and if a young player needs to be removed for the benefit of the team, it simply has to happen no matter how harsh it will be.
Both Dan Neil and Abdoullah Ba have fantastic potential and I think we all want to see more of them in a red and white shirt, but on Saturday they stayed on the pitch for far too long when it was clear a change HAD to happen.
Sunderland are DESPERATE for the World Cup break to get our injured players back!
Whilst some have started to criticise Tony Mowbray for our downfall in results, I think he has been dealt an unlucky hand with injuries.
As I have previously discussed in other Talking Points articles, Sunderland are missing their more physical and taller players which is having a massive effect, plus we simply do not have any like-for-like replacement at the level of Ross Stewart.
Cardiff absolutely dominated Sunderland aerially, despite being worse than us at defending set pieces in xG, and that is something the likes of Dan Ballard, Aje Alese and Stewart could have challenged.
In addition to this, it seems quite clear that Ellis Simms has been rushed back and is not yet fully up to speed, plus bringing Elliot Embleton on for him was just laughable in reality.
No team that plays two up front at any level of football should have no cover and that is something any manager would struggle with.
So while I believe that Mowbray should have reacted better with his substitutes yesterday, I do believe that we won’t be able to fully judge his management until after the World Cup when the squad is rebalanced.
Any promoted side that lost their best player and key defenders would see a decline in results.
If Stewart can replicate his form from earlier this season, that will completely change Sunderland’s fortunes and hopefully, keep us clear of any relegation battle.