We need to become more physically robust.
On the whole I think this team is committed and they all work hard for one another. There are no real egos at play and that means that more often than not we’re at least in games and give a good account of ourselves.
We’ve got many really good technical players and that has resulted in some of the best football we’ve seen in years at times this season - we’ve scored some epic team goals, and it’s genuinely been a delight to watch.
We know only too well though that teams play very differently at the Stadium of Light when they visit us. It happened for four years in League One and we’ve seen more of the same in the Championship this time around - they come to sit behind the ball, spoil the game through timewasting, and they try every trick in the book to get the crowd to turn on the team. It’s tried and tested and it works, unfortunately.
That to me is why we’ve had more success away from home than we have on Wearside. When we travel around, the expectation is on the home teams to play their own way. You won’t see them wasting time and sitting behind the ball when 90% of the ground is full of their own fans who have paid good money to see their team have a go.
We have no real answer for the way teams approach us at the Stadium of Light. We have one plan and that’s to work the ball into dangerous areas, keep our passing short and sharp, and press high.
But, it would be nice if we had more of a plan B.
We lack physicality in midfield and attack. Getting Stewart back will be massive for us but just him alone can’t solve the issue - I feel like we need another forward and another central midfielder at least in January who can make us a more physical side.
There are countless other issues we have that could help but for me, this is the most important one.
Tom Albrighton says…
I think it’s clear Sunderland have a mental block at home, and whilst it’s hard to point to one specific reason as to why, it does feel like the overarching theme is that of fear.
I’ve always felt like an acute awareness of any given situation can add pressure to achieve a result. Think of it like when ‘Football Manager’ reminds you that you’re unbeaten in five games, which can adversely affect your mentality forthwith.
For Sunderland, I think this is the case and it’s probably telling that our best results at home have been when we’ve started slowly but finished the game strongly.
The players are clearly as aware of our poor home form as they are of our horrendous corner statistics, and to me this adds a layer of pressure as soon as we take the lead.
As this happens, players become conscious and maybe don’t play their natural or instinctive game, creating a risk-averse mindset that leads to us surrendering the initiative in games.
As for solutions, it’s hard to pinpoint a definite answer, but perhaps one method would be for Tony Mowbray to set up in an overly attacking manner or to simply make early changes in order to to keep the opposition guessing.
By ensuring we maintain the initiative and forcing other managers to react to unexpected changes, we can perhaps more positively affect any outcomes.
The only way Sunderland can overcome the fear is by winning regularly at home, so in a perverse and almost simplistic way, the most obvious solution is to find a means by which we can dominate the opposition for ninety minutes.
It sounds simple and it probably is, but sometimes the right answer is the most obvious one.
Ewan Bowman says…
It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific reason why we seem to have a mental block when we are at home, but I think there are a couple of factors at play.
First and foremost, the lack of experience has to be questioned.
Whilst the lads have been terrific in spells, the points that were thrown away against Burnley, West Brom and QPR were incredibly frustrating. We stopped playing our game, began to worry about the opposition and allowed teams back into the game.
The second issue is the lack of physicality in the side, particularly when defending set pieces. Many teams in this league seem to have players that have a height advantage over us, and they’ve identified that and target us at set pieces. This is highlighted in the fact that we haven’t scored a goal from a corner or free kick this season.
We also have a lot of young players who are still learning about the Championship and are getting used to playing in front of big crowds at the Stadium of Light. If we get behind them, I’m sure that we’ll win more games than we lose.
Jon Guy says…
For those of us who’ve been following Sunderland for years, we’ve always been a team who can sometimes struggle to keep hold of a lead.
That said, it seems to be as much of a mentality issue as it is a tactical one.
We go one goal up; we tend to keep pushing for ten or fifteen minutes and if we don’t get a second goal, you can see the team start to drop a little bit deeper and the midfielders stop making dynamic runs.
It’s a real problem, and it needs to be addressed on the training ground.
Do the players possibly need a psychologist to guide them towards the required mindset? It could be that Tony Mowbray has a system where he looks to allow teams on in the hope that we can hit them on the counter, but if that’s the plan, it’s not working.
If you look at the way we played against Burnley, it was an example of us being the better team in the first half before falling apart in the second.
If we’re playing well, dominating games and creating chances, stick with it. It’s clear that we can’t sit back and challenge teams to try and break us down.
It’s down to Mowbray and his staff to find the solution, and if there’s additional pressure that comes with playing at home, he needs to tackle the issue.
We’re always told that young players play with freedom and don’t feel the pressure, but maybe some of the more experienced players will. It’s a big part of why managers and coaches earn the salaries they’re paid.