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Wycombe Wanderers v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One

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97 Corners an counting…

What can we do to fix our issue with scoring from corners and free kicks? Paddy Hayes offers up some thoughts on where Sunderland can go from here to ensure we improve in vital set piece situations

Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

Sunderland have been prolific in front of goal this season, an impressive feat considering the side was without a recognised striker for over 30% of the campaign thus far.

With the talismanic Ross Stewart having sustained a well-documented long-term injury, that has kept him out of action since Middlesbrough in early September, as well as a 6-week lay-off for loanee, Ellis Simms, our penchant for being able to stick the ball in the back of the net, has shown no sign of slowing down.

Sunderland’s resplendent arsenal of attacking flare has fired us into fourth in the Championship goal-scoring charts, yet, as has been touched upon by various media outlets, none of our 30 goals this term have come from a corner.

In the English game, the winning of a corner is greeted with hopeful applause and a rallying cry from the fans. Optimism fills the air as the taker trots over to the inconveniently positioned flag to swing an inviting ball in for a lumbering 6’5 centre-back to nod home.

At the Stadium of Light this season, that usual re-energising roar when a corner kick is awarded has transformed into what only can be described as a despondent, unhopeful groan.

In 97 attempts, Sunderland remain the only side in the division yet to convert from a corner.

How does a team so rich in goal-scoring threats become so inexplicably inept from corners?

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Lack of Aerial Presence

The long and short of it, is, well, the latter… we’re just too short.

There is no getting away from the fact that we as a team are aerially challenged.

While Aji Alese stands at a substantial 6’4, he’s featured rather sporadically such has been the form of Luke O’Nien and Dennis Cirkin. Danny Batth has been our only player of significant height that has consistently played.

The unimposing 5’6’s of Amad, Pritchard, and Roberts, and the 5’8s and 9s of Corry Evans, Dennis Cirkin, and Elliot Embleton are simply no match for the towering beasts à la Millwall’s Jake Cooper.

With Ross Stewart a goalkeeper’s set-piece nightmare at 6’5, and Dan Ballard at just 3 inches shorter having missed most of the season, it should fill us with some relief that their aerial prowess is set for imminent return, and will undoubtedly go some way to easing our corner-taking woes.

Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Is it time to switch it up?

Under Lee Johnson and Alex Neil, who both implemented inventive set-piece routines, specifically for corners, we’d occasionally see acts of quick-witted deception and trickery pay off, or at least nearly.

Currently it seems we are devoid of such tactical imagination from set-pieces, and it’s more akin to a “hit and hope” type cross into the box, with no real idea as to who and what we are aiming for.

Alex Pritchard has been predominantly in-charge of corners and free-kicks, and while he’s irrefutably a threat from the latter, his corners have left a lot to be desired, and perhaps it’s time to allow Dan Neil, Elliot Embleton, Patrick Roberts, or Amad Diallo to have a go?

On average, a goal is scored from around 1 in 10 corners, so from that logic, by Saturday’s game at Hull, we could have missed out on feasibly a further 10 goals this season.

Whether it’s hiring a set-piece coach, changing the corner-taker, or acquiring additional height in January, it’s certainly an issue that needs addressing sooner rather than later.

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