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Sunderland v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light

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What do we even do now?

It’s a short question, but not one that’s easily answered - what the hell do Sunderland do now in order to rescue our season?

Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Andrew Smithson says...

The obvious priority has to be tightening up at the back.

Simple balls are ripping us wide open and teams know they don't even have to apply any concerted pressure because sooner or later we are going to leave ourselves wide open. The first goal against MK Dons summed it up for me - they initially looked shaky after half time and had made a few miskicks, yet suddenly they were ahead from nothing.

We also need to find a way to rest one or two lads, as some of them are in desperate need of a break. They have not become bad players, but clearly need to reset having either been used to a different type of football at U23s level or never encountered such a drastic collapse.

As hard as it is, we have to try and believe that not all is lost.

Matete and Clarke look more than decent, Pritchard is doing very well and Stewart has now got back on the scoresheet, so we do have some encouraging signs. It has taken two months for us to unravel - it would be optimistic in the extreme, but we have to hope our fortunes turn back around just as quickly.

Sunderland v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Mark Carrick says...

It’s clear that Neil has a huge job on his hands. A debate has raged on social media whether sacking Lee Johnson was, in hindsight, the right decision. One thing that the past few weeks have suggested is that these players worked hard for him and his leaving has left some a little flat. Add in a loss of form, due to sheer exhaustion, and it’s obvious Neil has to come up with a solution to revitalise the team.

The coach has, himself, raised the tension between playing young players who have been ‘flogged to death’ or introducing players lacking match fitness. Who he chooses would dictate tactics and formation, no doubt.

To that end, I’d argue he could adopt a back 3, with Batth, Wright & Hume. This would give Doyle a break and bring the lad back for the run-in. Allowing Cirkin and Dan Neil similar breaks would not be a bad thing, if Clarke could be persuaded to play left side of a midfield four and track back, with Dajaku performing similarly on the right. In the centre, Matete and Winchester, able to drop off and support the defence but also drive from deep, would complete the midfield quartet.

Up top, Pritchard and Roberts operating just off Stewart would be a formidable trio. Rotation would be needed to bring Roberts fully up to speed and offer minutes to Defoe. Embleton and Broadhead would offer an alternative attacking option in the weeks to come.

Ipswich Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says...

I’m sorry, but the next step has to be that Speakman is relieved of his position.

The fact that most fans were a bit surprised when Johnson was sacked would certainly not be the case right now if that happened today. Many would take Lee back after what has transpired.

Speakman works with all the coaches and the wider recruitment team to identify and hire talent which improves our squad, the implementation of its ethos and tactics, and enhances our chances of going up.

He is accountable for the success of the concept we are trying to implement on behalf of the board. It doesn’t matter who that board is, the buck stops with him, and if we changed the whole ownership structure tomorrow and kept him in his role things won’t change. He has totally ballsed up what he is there to add to the club. He’s broken our squad.

Maybe it made some sense that Lee had to go first, but in our system the director of football is meant to ensure we implement incremental improvements to enable our promotion hopes, and we have been abjectly failed by the man in that role.

Alex Neil may be a good enough coach to get us out of this league in a full season, but not if Speakman remains in the seat above him. What he has done to our chances of going up by backing the release of Johnson and then making such a total mess of the replacement, as well as his shocking actions through the remainder of January - it’s criminal.

The next thing we must do is sack Speakman, and recruit someone who can really deliver this philosophy. Let’s start the rebuild now so we win promotion next season, as this season is no longer a viable promotion option, we all need to accept that.

Kelvin Beattie says...

It's tough times again for us Sunderland fans. This current situation is made all the more painful having had our hopes raised in the first part of this season with some decent results and some watchable football.

Where from here?

First of all, there are enough games left in this season for us to fight our way back into the play-offs and beyond!

Invariably there is a team that crashes the play-offs late in the day, in form and often this carries them through to the final and beyond. So, whilst the automatic spots look to be gone, we still have something to play for… so before we shoot ourselves in the foot by engaging in full-on protest and giving up on this season, let's give this as good a crack as we can for as long as we are in it!

1. Unless there are some experienced free agents out there, particularly a centre back with pace, and a central midfielder with ball-winning distribution skill, our squad is what we have to go for this.

2. Alex Neil needs to get his head around a formation and tactics that suit the squad we have. He got that wrong against MK Dons - he’s not got too many games to make this type of error again!

3. Whilst not alone in playing poorly yesterday, as captain and the most experienced player on the pitch Cory Evans has not been the leader and player I thought we were getting at the start of the season. Neil needs to decide quickly what to do about this. We need leadership on the pitch. We need ball winners and an ability to pass quickly and accurately through the lines and to the wings.

4. I would encourage Alex Neil to look again at a back five and to utilise the wing play of Roberts and Clarke.

5. Pritchard has shown us he can and will unlock defences, play him in his best position of out and out number 10.

6. Luke O’Nein is close to returning and McGeady, as well as Burge and Broadhead at some point. Defoe will also hopefully be getting close to match ready. Re-enforcements are on the way, we need to stay in it to allow these to exert their influence.

7. Trai Hume’s omission was puzzling, he has shown up well in attack as well as defence. If he is fit, get him back in the team.

8. Some of our younger players are showing their inexperience and signs of fatigue. Cirkin, Neil, Doyle and Dajaku should be at least rested to the bench to try and help them recover their early season form.

9. I would be tempted to try the following outfield formation: in defence, Hume Wright Batth Dyce... with Winchester in front of them, Roberts & Clarke on the flanks with Matete & Pritchard in the 8/10 roles - and Stewart up front. I would be looking for Winchester to sweep in front of his defence as well as support Matete in the middle of the midfield.

10. Whilst he has looked ragged in his last few games, I think most of us can agree Doyle looks like a player in the making. He reminds me a bit of Richard Ord, could he play that defensive role in front of his defence and break forward to augment midfield/attack? If so he may be an option in that role. (Ideally, we would not experiment with such a key role at this stage of the season, but needs must!). It could re-invigorate Doyle, who knows.

11. For us the fans, we need to hold our wrath and fume till there is nothing left to play for or we are promoted. It would be hypocritical to criticise levels of effort and bottle for the fight if we ourselves stop displaying this. Let's get behind the team and give it our best crack.


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