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Sunderland v Queens Park Rangers - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light

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Talking Points: Sunderland must improve their defensive depth as Dan Ballard will miss two months!

Following Sunderland’s late capitulation against QPR, Matty talks Simms & Stewart, game management and how we MUST add depth at right-back and centre back!

Photo by Will Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

SAS were fantastic again, with both scoring for the second game running!

Heading into half-time Sunderland had a two-goal lead, with our brand new strike force finding the net once again.

The disappointment of failing to re-sign Nathan Broadhead is already forgotten on Wearside and it is entirely down to what already looks to be a brilliant partnership between Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms.

Alex Neil currently has two very well-rounded forwards at his disposal, both can run in behind, hold up the ball, win aerial duels and also possess excellent pace.

What makes it better is that they’re both looking incredibly sharp and confident. Stewart has picked up where he left off from last season, whilst Simms has settled excellently and delivered a brilliant finish on Saturday.

While Neil will want another face to provide competition, you would imagine both strikers will be feeling confident of reaching double figures, something which will be key to Sunderland’s season as we won’t be overly reliant on one forward.

The problem our recruitment team will have now is who will want to come and compete with these two? From Neil’s recent comments on Broadhead, it appears he most certainly didn’t!

Sunderland v Queens Park Rangers - Sky Bet Championship
Ellis Simms scored his third goal of the season on Saturday, whilst Ross Stewart bagged his second.

With no clean sheets in three and two winning positions dropped at home - Sunderland must manage leads better!

Although conceding an equaliser to a goalkeeper can be a once-in-a-generation moment, the unfortunate fact is that although Sunderland were excellent on Saturday, we dropped two points purely by failing to manage the game.

On another day, Elliot Embleton’s shot falls in off the bar and we aren’t having this conversation, but in both home fixtures so far we have started brilliantly to end on a low point.

I think we all would have taken five points from three games, but having got into such an excellent position at the weekend, the draw feels like a defeat and a missed opportunity ahead of some difficult fixtures.

It is clear that we require depth in many areas on the bench, but one change that massively surprised me on Saturday was the removal of Ellis Simms so early.

I felt that given how dangerous we looked and how well SAS are working together, it took away a huge threat that wasn’t replaced like for like. In my opinion, we would have had more chance of killing the match off should Simms have stayed on the pitch and there were other players who looked tired who should have been replaced before him.

In terms of on the pitch for the players, the first goal is massively preventable as the foul should have been on the halfway line rather than right outside the box. Dan Neil taking a tactical yellow in a great position is far better than giving quality players a dead ball situation right outside our box.

Once that first went in, you knew what was coming. Sunderland simply must start keeping clean sheets so the players feel confident with holding leads.

Sunderland v Queens Park Rangers - Sky Bet Championship
Seny Dieng scored an excellent header, followed by a brilliant double save to snatch a point for QPR.
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

There seems no signs of a new right back being close - would you be happy to see Lynden Gooch remain as our first choice?

One position I am still massively surprised that Sunderland have not recruited this summer is right back.

Alex Neil appears to feel that Trai Hume is ready for regular league action and I think he would benefit from a loan to get a full season of minutes in English football, whilst Niall Huggins is still battling injury issues that saw him all of pre-season.

This leaves Sunderland with Gooch, who rightfully earned the position at the end of last season, but who has endured an inconsistent start defensively to the season.

Going forward we all know the American can dribble and whip in excellent crosses, as we have seen at home against Coventry, however defensively is where the question marks lie.

In League One Sunderland dominated the ball so Gooch was sparingly tested defensively, but now up against superior players we have far less of the ball and have to defend far more often.

Last week against Bristol City he was at fault for Weimann’s goal and you could say that he could have done better to prevent Chair’s cross for Dieng’s equaliser on Saturday.

Gooch may adapt and improve defensively in what is still a new role for him, however putting all our eggs in one basket across a 50-game season would be naive for me.

Particularly as teams can use five substitutes to change games, I think Neil should have two players per position that he is comfortable with and right now it seems very much Gooch or nothing.

It may be that this position is where we use one of our remaining loans. Chelsea’s 22-year-old right-back Dujon Sterling is available and would be an excellent option.

Bradford City v Sunderland: Pre-Season Friendly
Lynden Gooch is the longest serving player in the Sunderland squad.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dan Ballard is set for a long spell on the sidelines - how many centre backs do Sunderland need to recruit?

I think the entire ground was gutted to see Dan Ballard hobble off on Saturday, a player who already looks a class above our other centre backs at the club.

The Northern Irishman is set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines and rumours suggest the initial prognosis is two months, which would be around 12 matches, meaning currently either Luke O’Nien or Bailey Wright would deputise.

As I have mentioned above, Sunderland are massively lacking depth in this position and with Aji Alese being left-footed, he is more in competition with Dennis Cirkin than in the running to replace Ballard.

Given that Alex Neil has chosen to continue playing three at the back, Sunderland would be left with four fit options for three positions (Cirkin included), which is too simply too low.

Ex-Fulham defender Michael Hector was linked, but he comes with high top-end Championship wages, making any deal more difficult.

With Ballard out long-term, I don’t think there would be any harm in signing another permanent option and perhaps another on a six-month loan in case the likes of Danny Batth, Dennis Cirkin and Wright pick up an injury.

At this level, I would prefer to not see Luke O’Nien and Carl Winchester having to play centre half again.

How many central defenders do you think Alex Neil should sign?

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