Monday’s win over Blackburn created some huge questions for Tony Mowbray to answer – not only ahead of Thursday’s game at Wigan, but beyond that, too.
While yet again the Sunderland treatment room is now close to overcrowded, following injuries to Gooch and Cirkin, the boss decided to use the former’s injury as an opportunity to go for the win with a move to a back three and to reunite the SAS strikeforce for the first time since August.
Roscoe has come back as if he has never been away, and it was another performance that showed just how important he is to the team. The decision to pair him and Ellis Simms paid dividends, with the Everton loanee’s cute finish handing us an important three points.
Now that the cheers have abated and thoughts turn to our trip to the North West, Mowbray has some real thinking to do.
The back four has served us well this season, but it is clear that if the SAS are to lead the line, they will do so in a 3-5-2 formation with two attacking wing backs.
Here is where the questions begin. If you go for a three, and given the current injuries, will this see Ballard, Wright and O’Nien with Clarke and Roberts as wing backs? With a fully fit squad (January transfer window aside) who are your three? Batth, Ballard, Alese? If so where does that leave O’Nien, who has been a bit of an unsung hero this season?
If you look at a midfield five Evans is likely to be in front of the back four, with Dan Neil, and either Ba or O’Nien in the central roles with Clarke, Roberts, Amad and Bennette fighting it out for the wing-back duties. This doesn’t even factor in Pritchard when he is fit, but it might be a choice between him and Neil for the creative heart of the midfield behind the SAS.
This Gordian Knot comes without any new arrivals in the next month and doesn’t factor in Michut, who arrived with an amazing CV but has yet to get any sort of run in the side
The temptation to have Stewart and Simms as a spearhead for the side is significant, if for nothing else than Sunderland desperately need a few taller players on the pitch. And while the duo scare the life out of defenders they add much-needed height when defending set pieces. Ballard, Batth, Alese, and Wright are anything but diminutive, but they are unlikely to be played as a back four – but three of the quartet might make a back three if fully fit as Ballard and Alese are no slouches.
The 4-2-3-1 provides the ability for Mowbray to utilise more of the flair players such as Roberts, Amad, Clarke and Pritchard, and in his post-match comments, he made it clear he believes the fans want attacking football and he is determined to deliver it.
Does that attacking set-up mean Stewart and Simms with two wingers, and passing midfield player providing the ammunition or does it means sticking with Stewart or Simms supported by three behind them?
As the transfer rumour mill goes into overdrive in the coming weeks, it may well not be until the end of February that we get a clear idea of how Tony Mowbray has decided to answer the questions over the shape he believes will deliver results.
And we will certainly have to wait until February, at the earliest, to see who he believes can deliver it.