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Sunderland v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship

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Roker Roundtable: Do Sunderland need to shore up their midfield?

Against Coventry, our midfield was highlighted as an area of potential weakness. We asked our panel whether additions are needed in the Black Cats’ engine room

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Mitch Marshall says...

Being somewhat light in the centre of midfield is an issue that I highlighted in our game against Dundee United during pre-season. I feared that a team like Coventry might exploit a lack of balance and steel in the centre of the park, if we opted to play the expansive Dan Neil alongside Corry Evans.

Neil will likely mature into a more rounded player in his first Championship season, but playing for the full ninety minutes in a game which ebbs and flows will be a very tough initiation for him. Also, despite his fantastic end to last season, I don’t feel that Corry Evans can anchor a Championship midfield on his own for a full game.

The problem for Alex Neil right now is that he probably doesn’t trust the three other players who could add extra weight central midfield when needed.

Jay Matete didn’t even make the bench on Sunday, and neither did Carl Winchester. Luke O’Nien, meanwhile, hardly covered himself in glory when he came on, although it is early days for him at this level.

It might not be his number one priority, but I’m sure Alex Neil would be keen to reorganise his central midfield OPTIONS.

Loaning out the young Matete, for example, might provide space in the squad for a more proven, solid central midfielder and allow O’Nien and Winchester to be used as utility players, rather than ones we rely on regularly in midfield.

Sunderland v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Mark Wood says...

We have to remember that this was only one game, the first game at this level for many of the players, and even for the likes of Corry Evans, his first Championship game for over a year.

That said, on the evidence of Sunday, the one area where we seemed to be lacking was in midfield. Dan Neil and Elliott Embleton did well enough in the first half, but as Coventry got their act together in the second, they had less and less of an impact on the match.

Luke O’Nien was brought on to add bite to the midfield, but truth be told, he was a lucky to still be on the pitch by the end, because in the Premier League, his tackle would have been sent to VAR for review at the very least. One additional midfield general, who can win the ball throughout the ninety minutes and pass it to the likes of Neil, wouldn’t go amiss.

Overall, midfield is not the only area where we could do with a bit more quality.

One more striker to back up Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms seems to be on the shopping list, and just as we had for nearly our entire spell in League One, we started with a makeshift right-back in Lynden Gooch.

Admittedly, he produced a peach of a cross for our goal, but this is a position where we just about got away with playing with stand-ins for the past four years. In the Championship, however, where we will encounter plenty of teams who are better than us, I would feel a lot more confident if we played an orthodox right-back.

Sunderland v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Scott Young says...

The draw was a fair result, and tactically, it was a very interesting game.

Alex Neil went in with a deliberate plan to sit deep and that we would be hard to break down. This meant giving Coventry the bulk of the possession and catching them on the break, and given that Mark Robins’ side are a team who can struggle against teams that sit deep, Neil had clearly done his homework.

For large parts of the game, this worked.

Coventry were forced to play a lot of long balls up the field which were mostly ineffective, and we looked tidy and dangerous when we won possession and drove up the field, having a lot of success on the wings in particular.

However, towards the end of the game we sat deeper and deeper and found it difficult to establish an outlet ball, and therefore gave away possession cheaply and invited pressure. As the game wore on, it felt inevitable that Coventry would score, but overall, a fair result.

Sunderland v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Ewan Bowman says...

We are short of Championship experience in midfield, and this was highlighted during the second half as Coventry dominated.

In central midfield, the only player to have played Championship football is Corry Evans. Dan Neil will naturally develop as he is a technically gifted player and has the passing range to unlock defences, but after that, we have Luke O’Nien, Carl Winchester and Jay Matete, all of whom have no experience at this level.

Alex Neil did not name Winchester or Matete in his matchday squad for the Coventry game, so they were either not fit, or Neil simply doesn’t see them as the solution in this league.

I would loan out Matete so that he can gain further experience; I would use Winchester and O’Nien as squad players, and sign at least two more midfielders.

When we were on the front foot against Coventry, we were very good on the ball and were always a threat, but as the game turned, our inexperience at this level showed in the middle of the park, with endless passes going astray.

I’m sure that Neil knows this and will address it, but the signs are promising.

Sunderland v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

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