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Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Roker Roundtable: How can Sunderland adapt in the absence of Ross Stewart and Dennis Cirkin?

Cirkin and Stewart both suffered injuries during Sunderland’s trip to Middlesbrough on Monday night. We asked our panel for their thoughts on how it might affect the team in their upcoming games

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Tom Albrighton says…

Hopefully the approach, from a tactical perspective, doesn’t differ too much from what we’ve become accustomed to.

In terms of Cirkin, it really is a heavy blow and as mentioned by Tony Mowbray, it does negatively affect the balance of the team.

That said, if Aji Alese can make the step up, the balance can be at least partially restored. Unlike some, I’m hoping that this will present itself as a great opportunity for Aji and one which he’ll take with both hands.

Ross Stewart is a different concern altogether.

He is integral to how we play, and a definite shift will be needed to minimise the impact felt by his absence, with Ellis Simms’ performance at Middlesbrough casting doubt on whether we can switch to a lone striker accompanied by two number tens.

Aside from persisting with this, I can’t see an obvious solution, bar trying to utilise the as-yet unproven Amad Diallo, Leon Dajaku or Max Thompson to play on the shoulder of the last man as a second striker, with Simms becoming the link between the midfield and attack.

All in all, you’d hope the tactical approach and shape doesn’t change too much from one that has brought success and relative stability so far. However, being forced into these tweaks may make for a blessing in disguise by allowing Mowbray to find out the strengths and weaknesses of his squad, as well as potentially providing a much-needed plan B.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - Riverside Stadium Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Kevin Barker says…

My worst fears were realised on Monday night as full-back and centre forward are the two areas where we really couldn’t afford any injuries.

This will probably force us to play with one up front and utilise our many wingers in support. We still have enough quality to cause teams problems going forward, but we will have to adapt, with ball retention being key.

Cirkin has started the season so well and has improved massively from the player we saw in League One. We may be forced into a change to four at the back and use Jack Clarke at left-back, providing the injury is short term.

Let’s hope they are both back in a couple of weeks and trust that Tony Mowbray, with all his experience, will find the answer. Hopefully the fringe players can step up to the challenge and show their worth.

Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Jon Guy says…

There will be a huge number of fans saying ‘I told you so’, but the fact is we are where we are.

Although we have possibly lost two of the four players who have hit some really good form, I think that Tony Mowbray will be working on a backup plan. I wonder if we will see Aji Alese brought into the left of a back three, given that he has a left foot and some real pace.

Interestingly, Rangers fans said that Amad Diallo was better suited to playing off a target man, so it might be that he plays up alongside Ellis Simms. We don’t know Mowbray’s thinking but we do have attacking options.

Defence, on the other hand, is a little bit tougher but we need to use a system - be it a back three or a back four - where we don’t look to fit a midfield player into a defensive hole. Luke O’Nien has been a stopgap for Daniel Ballard and has done well overall, but maybe Alese is the best option.

Sheffield United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says…

With every challenge in terms of injuries, there is an opportunity for others to shine, and that is how we need to look at the injuries suffered against Middlesbrough.

The loss of Ross Stewart happened so close to the start of the game, and Tony Mowbray and the coaches and the players had little time to react, so it is time for Mowbray to show what he can do. The harsher critics of Monday’s performance need to take that into account when lambasting our admittedly poor performance, but few did, it seems.

If that level of performance continues, however, they will have grounds to maintain that perspective, which we all hope won’t be the case.

The recruitment team saw fit to not bring in any further forward options in the summer window, so now we get chance to see what their ‘plan B’ is, when we lose a major player like Stewart, who was missed on Teesside.

I expect Amad Diallo to feature, and we may see the introduction of Jewison Bennette, as well as more of Leon Dajaku, though the latter was pretty anonymous when he came on against Boro.

In terms of defence, we failed to add any more central defenders in the window, so we have to assume the combination of Bailey Wright and Aji Alese will cover for Dennis Cirkin, and that may involve changing to a back four at times.

The one thing I don’t want to change too much is the tactical approach of pressing from the front, as well as our intensity.

Ellis Simms didn’t lead the line as well as Stewart on Monday, and that is a concern, but we need to find a way to keep playing our natural style with the players we have available.

This could be a trying time, but it could also lead to the emergence of the players that the club believe can make a difference.

Let’s hope they were right, because there is a long way to go until the winter transfer window opens, and we need to maintain our good start by whatever means necessary, including by exploring the free agent market if we need to.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

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