Ian Bendelow says...
No, as long as the style Alex Neil is trying to implement is one which plays to the strengths of the side and looks like it can be effective - and crucially the team looks like it is improving. However right now, it isn’t; compared to Wigan and Charlton, it’s getting worse.
On Saturday, the long ball game was a complete dud. The fact that the goals came from post-substitution passages of play, of supreme quality that was so at odds with what Sunderland had been doing for 80 minutes should spell out to Neil that he cannot set up like that again from the start. Because, what happens if they play like that and find themselves 2-0 down? It’s a distinct possibility.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Sunderland beat two of the weakest sides in the division - both on very poor runs and are littered with inexperience, it isn’t a leap to think against the majority of teams they have to play, the quality of performance wouldn’t have been good enough to secure maximum points. Neil needs to find a way to play to his sides’ strengths, and while that was the case for the final 10 minutes, what went before caused a huge degree of head-scratching.
“We have got to separate performances from results,” he said after the win earlier in the week; well, that’s partly true, but good performances and good results are intrinsically linked. Yes, we should always place higher value on the result rather than how it was achieved, but if you put in poor performances consistently, you’ll stop winning matches.
Matt Smith says...
There’s no denying that the quality of our performances in the last two games has been a concern that shouldn’t be obscured by the positive results we’ve somehow achieved. With recent memories of the ruthlessness with which LJ’s sides dispatched lower league opponents such as Cheltenham, Morecambe and, in the reverse fixture, Crewe themselves it was disheartening in the extreme to see a one-dimensional Sunderland side struggle to break down a dogged Crewe defence for 80+ minutes on Saturday.
However, despite the buccaneering image of the LJ era that is sadly missed there were also more mystifying, less lamented frailties that at least look like they are being addressed. Neil’s team selections seem to be hampered by the fear of such frailties reappearing. He seemed to think his selection on Saturday was fairly adventurous but I suppose that depends on whether you take the perspective of the starting 11 featuring only 2 recognised defenders or 4 primarily defensive midfielders. Regardless, Neil seems to prioritise initial solidity in the knowledge that the bench provides more attacking options and, to be fair, he’s been willing to use such options in a timely manner. More concerning than the personnel has been the centre-mid-avoidance tactics deployed in the first half of the last two games. Losing a player of Pritchard’s quality would weaken any team and prompt a rethink but I’m hoping he’s gone back to the drawing board on this one.
Stronger teams would surely have punished such an approach but, then again, it’s debatable whether Neil would have selected the same team and tactics for such opponents. He’s made no secret of his concerns over squad burnout and resting some of our younger attacking talent, when he feels he can afford to, makes some sense. I also get the feeling that he shuns the conventional wisdom of attacking weaker teams and being more defensive against stronger opponents. It’s not a recipe for inspiring confidence in our ability to continue to take 3 points from winnable games like our last 2 home matches. However, if we continue to save our better performances for the big games, while winning ugly against the minnows, I certainly won’t be complaining.
Tom Albrighton says...
The quality of performances does matter, it’s really that simple.
After two, quite frankly, turgid performances any fan can be forgiven and understood for any complaints around being bored stiff for we’ll in excess of 120 minutes over two games.
Performances underwrite what a team is about, where their strengths and weaknesses lay but also where the future of the squad lies. Whilst Sunderland have been arguably lucky to escape the last 2 games with 3 points, it's safe to say that if the lads faced opposition that simply weren’t relegation fodder, the results may have been far different.
Football is an entertainment business as well as a results business and it’s becoming clear that whilst some fans simply value points and points only, others want to see positive results accompanied by positive performances as a reward for parting with their hard-earned cash.
The job for Neil going forward is to merge the newfound tightness in defence with a more vibrant attack rather than current one-dimensional and static outlay we have seen recently.
Should he match these two together, Neil would win over his early critics but should performances remain to be dour and results start to fall away, Neil will find himself with nowhere to hide in a very short period of time.