Having failed to score in his last eight matches, is it now time for Ross Stewart to be given a rest?
This is something that I did not expect to be suggesting following his brilliant form this season, but given Alex Neil’s admission that he feels Ross Stewart is particularly fatigued, is it now time to rest our frontman given our potentially packed run-in?
Throughout yesterday’s match, Stewart struggled to get involved in the game and missed Sunderland’s golden opportunity to score when he failed to control a wonderful over-the-top ball from Elliot Embleton.
That touch summed up Stewart’s current form for Sunderland, as he has only scored four times since Alex Neil was appointed, with only two coming from open play.
The Scot has started every single League One match this season for Sunderland, only being substituted off four times, in addition to playing 90 minutes twice in the Carabao Cup.
He has played over 500 more minutes than any other Sunderland player, which is now starting become visible given his barren run in front of goal.
As a result of this, with a crucial match next Tuesday against Rotherham around the corner and a potential additional three playoff matches, should Neil rest Stewart against Cambridge to try and rectify this issue?
It is likely that confidence is also playing a part and Stewart’s goals did previously drop when playing alongside Broadhead, but if the manager feels he is fatigued I would rather deal with that issue now rather than watch it worsen during the playoffs.
Would you rest Stewart against Cambridge?
Alex Neil reflects on today's stalemate at Home Park.— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) April 18, 2022
Full interview... pic.twitter.com/or77sQRsHy
Was yesterday’s draw a great away point or a missed opportunity?
When the final whistle blew yesterday I was torn between accepting that it was a credible away point against a side playing incredibly well at home, as well as a feeling that we didn’t quite push to win the match.
First and foremost, credit to the team for going away to a playoff rival and achieving a clean sheet. That is something you have to say has been a clear improvement under Alex Neil.
However, as I saw Plymouth’s Panutche Camará, the clear man of the match, walk off injured, I thought that was the time Sunderland could really push on and go for the three points, but our more conservative approach remained intact.
This is where I feel Alex Neil’s greatest challenge lies. Finding the balance between improving Sunderland’s defence, whilst also not killing what was a fantastic team offensively.
Having said that, I do agree with the manager’s comments about lacking quality, as both Stewart and Broadhead played below their usual standard, plus Sunderland’s wide options offered very very little (something I will get onto below).
The frustrating part of Jermain Defoe’s retirement is that we now no longer have any forward options to bring on if Stewart and Broadhead aren’t firing.
It is one of those where if Sunderland finish in the top six, we will see it as a great away day, but if we do miss out by small margins, I do believe that Plymouth were for the taking during the final 30 minutes.
What were your feelings on the result and Sunderland’s approach?
Captain Corry Evans' thoughts on today's game.— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) April 18, 2022
Jack Clarke and Luke O’Nien both struggled - how should Alex Neil deal with Sunderland’s troubles out wide?
Considering in January many Sunderland fans felt we had the best set of wide options in the league, currently it is the most problematic position for Neil.
Yesterday both Luke O’Nien and Jack Clarke struggled to beat their men or provide quality crosses into the box, Clarke was particularly wasteful and highly surprisingly not substituted.
The majority of Sunderland’s wide men were bought to play in a 4-2-3-1, so we are now torn between playing wingers at wing-back who offer little defensively, or fullbacks at wing-back who offer little going forward.
Neil has used full-backs Dennis Cirkin and Carl Winchester at centre-back, preferring to use more natural wingers out wide, but no one has offered any form of consistency in end product.
The most natural wing-back on the right is arguably Lynden Gooch, but he has massive struggled for consistency since the start of this season and has one assist in 2022.
Then on the other flank, you have Jack Clarke who provides great pace, but his end product has been highly inconsistent and defenders have quickly switched on to the fact he is massively right-footed.
The issue heading into a potential playoff campaign is that if Sunderland play wingers as full-backs, they will be exposed defensively.
The most balanced options would probably be Lynden Gooch and Luke O’Nien, or perhaps Dennis Cirkin if Callum Doyle were to come back into the frame.
Who do you think Neil should select at wing-back if he is to stick with this system?
Alex Pritchard must start against Cambridge if he is fit enough!
Given my above-mentioned concerns about how Sunderland performed going forward against Plymouth, the man we all know that can fix things has to be Alex Pritchard.
With nine League One assists this season, the ex-Premier League man is Sunderland’s top assister and he has been a huge miss in recent matches.
Neil’s side are lacking someone who can consistently deliver defence splitting passes to create clear cut chances for our front line.
There was so much space in behind Plymouth’s back line yesterday, but we rarely found the right ball at the right time. Also, Pritchard’s quality from dead ball situations is another major plus.
Previously it was worked with Pritchard, Broadhead and Stewart as the front three, but you could also play both Pritchard and Embleton behind Broadhead, especially given Embleton’s improved form in front of goal.
If he is fit enough to play, would you start Pritchard against Cambridge on Saturday?