Is Tony Mowbray being too cautious in his team selection?
Upon his appointment as Sunderland head coach, Tony Mowbray was publicly very positive about having young, talented players to choose from, and his willingness to develop young players was talked up. The reality has been a bit different, though, and I can’t help but think Mowbray’s being far too cautious in his team selections – opting for experience every time. Trai Hume, Niall Huggins and Jay Matete are three players who’ve been here for a while now and will justifiably feel aggrieved about not being given more of a chance to date – they’ve racked up three starts between them. Throw into the mix Abdullah Ba, Jewison Benette and Eduoard Michut, who have one start between them to date, and a pattern begins to emerge. Lynden Gooch and Dan Neil are two players who are very lucky to be holding on to their starting positions, and I can’t help but feel we need to be a little more adventurous.
A tale of two Dans
Well, I suppose if you had to pick a game for Danny Batth to get injured early on, it would be the fixture that Dan Ballard was back on the bench for the first time in four months. Batth has been superb this campaign – he’s my player of the season so far – and it’ll be a massive blow if we’re to lose him for any time at all. Still, Ballard’s return softened that blow a bit, and although he was clearly lacking fitness – as demonstrated by the penalty he conceded and going down with cramp towards the end of the game – that runout will fast-track his return to full fitness. A Batth/Ballard partnership at the back is one of the best in the division – let’s hope it’s not too long until we see it.
Big Ross back with a bang
The major positive of the day was seeing Ross Stewart back in action – and he quickly got back to doing what he does best. Even though he was naturally a bit rusty, he showed exactly what we’ve been missing over the past three and a half months. He linked up play, got a lovely goal and a little more sharpness could have seen him bag at least one more. Of course, getting his contract sorted is an imperative – his goalscoring return to action won’t have gone unnoticed.
Embleton gets a double dose of bad luck
Poor Elliot Embleton. Whatever you think of him as a player, he was ridiculously unlucky yesterday. Yes, it wasn’t the smartest-looking tackle, and if you’re being critical, you could blame him for giving the referee the opportunity to send him off, but it was never a red card. He was going for the ball; the Hull lad is watching Embleton and jumps into him, and then rolls around as if a sniper in the crowd’s tried to take him out. The ref got over excited, saw an opportunity to be centre of attention and couldn’t wait to whip out his red. To compound another poor bit of officiating, of course, Embleton looks to have suffered a very serious injury, and we wish him all the best in his recovery. Even though the three-game ban will be irrelevant, I’d still appeal it out of principle.
We have a good left back – so why are we playing a centre back out of position there?
I am finding Aji Alese’s continued selection at left back a bit odd. Yes, he did OK there when Cirkin was injured, and yes, he’s obviously got bags of potential, but Cirkin is a far better full back and he’s left watching on while Aji turns in ‘OK’ performances. Against West Brom last week and Hull yesterday, our left side has been targeted – and we couldn’t stem the tide in either game. Whether teams see the Alese/Clarke partnership down the left a weak spot or not I don’t know, but we’ve struggled down that side and surely Cirkin has to come back in to the starting XI against Blackburn on Boxing Day?
A good point – or not?
Generally, I’d always be happy with a point away from home – and I’m not unhappy with it – however our poor home form means we need to win away from home when we have the chance – and Hull were there for the taking yesterday. With a bit more nous, a bit more adventure, and a few changes to the starting XI, we could easily have come home with a comfortable three points – and ultimately it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity.