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Sunderland v Fleetwood Town - Sky Bet League One

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Roker Roundtable: How should Alex Neil approach tomorrow’s game against Crewe?

Following a dire first half on Tuesday, we pulled the game around thanks to a half-time shake up. So what should the Head Coach do for tomorrow’s visit of Crewe?

Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Alex Neil started the Fleetwood game with a back four and two holding midfielders. There was loads wrong with our first-half performance and at half time, he switched to a back five. Crewe, like Fleetwood, are struggling and you’d imagine they’ll come to dig in and sit deep – so how does Alex Neil approach this game from a tactical perspective with all of this in mind?

Malc Dugdale says... ‘Persist with Roberts and Clarke’

The first half against Fleetwood needs to be banished to the deepest darkest realms of our history. Irrespective of the personnel selected and the poor application they showed, it was just wrong. The coach acknowledged that despite the win, the whole match and its characteristics weren’t good enough, honesty which is great to see.

That is no guarantee that the same tactics will result in the same case for Crewe though. We have to trust the gaffer and his team to give our best tactics a shot. Thankfully if they don’t work, in Alex Neil we have a coach who changes things to make a difference. He had the kahunas to change 2 lads after 45 and we won. That is the definition of impact substitutes. Well done.

I do think we are better with a back three with wing backs, and as Callum Doyle recovers his mojo and Danny Batth gets back from injury we may have more options to apply that setup. Arby didn’t do super well against Fleetwood, but he’s had a good couple of games before that so shouldn’t be dropped too hastily.

I’d like to see us persist with Roberts and Clarke, and maybe have Defoe on earlier – both the young lads had good moments and some iffy ones, but they offer attacking skills others don’t.

Defoe got an assist and helped make space for others to take shots on, so as his fitness rises he can add a lot of value as well as goals.

3-5-2 for me, and let’s batter these lot so we can continue to progress up the playoff places. Teams around us have some tough games this weekend, we need to capitalise on that.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One
Time for Doyle to come back into the team?
Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Martin Wanless says... ‘He has to start with a back three’

I’ve seen a lot of criticism directed towards Alex Neil for the formation and team selection on Tuesday night, but I think that’s unfair – he picked a team many would have been happy with at 745pm – I’ve wanted to see Roberts and Clarke in the starting line up, for example, but unfortunately it just didn’t work. I’m not sure that’s to do with the players, the system or – more likely – the tactics Neil employed: that’s where I think criticism is justified.

He’s chopped and changed tactics game to game in a desperate attempt to hit on something that works – that doesn’t give me confidence, I must admit, but for tomorrow’s game I think he has to start with the back three / five that worked well in the second half on Tuesday.

I doubt we’ll see such attacking wing backs from the off – Cirkin probably on the left and Gooch on the right, while Callum Doyle could be drafted back in after his rest to complete a back three or Wright and Winchester.

I’d hope he’s seen enough of Evans by this stage and will pair O’Nien and Matete in midfield – while he has detractors, O’Nien showed in his cameo exactly what we’ve been missing while he’s been out of the team. He adds a hell of a lot to the team.

Of course, playing with wing backs reduces the spots available in wide attacking areas, but it does potentially open up a place for Jermain Defoe. He showed on Tuesday he can contribute well and I’d pair him up front with Stewart, maybe with Clarke given a free role to run channels in Pritchard’s absence.

Sunderland v Fleetwood Town - Sky Bet League One
Good to be back!
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Gary Engel says... ‘We’ll need calm and patience to break down Crewe’

It’s a while since Sunderland have really turned the tide in a game and gone on to win the match as they managed on Tuesday. Arguably, our struggles have come not against the better teams this term but against the lesser sides prepared to come and score a goal, park the bus then pick us off on the counter.

That has frustrated the fans time and again, especially at home, heaping more pressure on the side to make every pass incisive and prove clinical with every chance created. On Tuesday, for once, Sunderland showed calm and patience to come back at their opponents, not seen very often over the past couple of months.

They will need that level of patience to break down Crewe at the weekend. On paper, Sunderland will be confident. But we all know how many times we have slipped up against opposition of this ilk since the turn of 2022. No chickens will be counted until full time, or at least once Neil’s team are in full command of the game. This could be the perfect follow on from Tuesday, get the level of performance right, don’t let our guard down and we should take all three points from the young, inexperienced Crewe side.


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