Team Selection: As Expected!
Given the sheer amount of injury problems we have at the minute (I think I counted eight, but I could be wrong), plus the fact we lost Ellis Simms less than two days before the game, I wasn’t expecting any major changes to the team at Blackpool.
News early in the day suggested that a pair of players from our U18s squad, Chris Rigg and Tom Watson, would make up part of Tony Mowbray’s squad - further highlighting how many issues we’ve got with injuries and illness, but also a sign that Sunderland aren’t afraid to give kids a chance if they’re good enough, also showing them that the best place for them is here as we can offer a genuine pathway to senior football that other higher placed yet financially well off clubs (cough... f*ck off Newcastle... cough) simply cannot.
We went with three at the back with wingbacks, two in the middle and two in behind Big Rossco up front, who came back into the side having been part of the subs on Thursday at Wigan.
YOUR #SAFC STARTING XI!— Roker Report (@RokerReport) January 1, 2023
15 year old Chris Rigg is named on the bench as Sunderland’s walking wounded do their best to turn out this afternoon. Stewart comes in for the departed Simms, Roberts comes in for Ba. Haway the Lads! pic.twitter.com/CDwM10SyRU
First Half: Not great... did we party a little too much on NYE?!
We didn’t know it for definite until after the game finished when it was confirmed by Tony Mowbray, but most of the Lads who started the game had been ill over recent days - especially Luke O’Nien, who defied his sickbed and doctor’s orders to ensure he was able to play in the game, which shouldn’t surprise anyone really given this is the man who played with a dislocated shoulder for half a season because he didn’t want to let the team down.
And you could tell. Our play was slack, and whilst we started with the majority of the ball, we had no real answer for Blackpool’s pressing off the ball, which restricted what we were able to do.
Still, we tried to move the ball around and a decent early cross from Clarke almost found Amad at the back stick, but he couldn’t get a touch on it.
Blackpool had worked out that to kill our supply they must stop the midfielders, and they were all over Neil and Michut, which worked a treat. Michut in particular struggled, and after copping a yellow card for a tactical pull back (which was met with a clap and nod of approval from fellow shithouse Luke O’Nien) his effectiveness was limited.
Soon after they went ahead, and I wasn’t really surprised - though, I was surprised by the state of our defending. Nobody in the back six came off from it well, but it was Bailey Wright in particular who frustrated most with a couple of missed opportunities to clear the ball before slowly running back towards his own goal like he was towing a caravan behind him.
He wasn’t the only one though, and it’s probably not fair to pin it all on him. You could go through all of them and ask questions of them, but we have to be better than that defensively if we are serious about becoming playoff contenders, because teams who get promoted defend well first and foremost.
We didn’t respond well and instead it was Blackpool who had the better chances as the half advanced, with Gary Madine missing a sitter - a huge let off. Good job he’s shite.
Amad was probably our best player in that opening 45 minutes and he almost got us the equaliser before half time, twatting a shot off the bar after a really good spell of play.
That aside, we weren’t great. Improvement was needed (and, spoiler: that’s what we got!).
Second Half: That’s the Sunlun I know & love!
Yeeeeeeeeeees.... much more like it.
We came out after the break with a little more zip in our play, which is usually the opposite of how we emerge following the half time oranges.
Amad in particular was busy and looking to get things moving, and his link-up play with Paddy Roberts seemed likely to be what would get us back into the game.
The lad on loan from Manchester United was unlucky not to grab an equaliser after 54 minutes when he bent a left footed shot towards the right hand side of Chris Maxwell in the Blackpool goal, but it was tipped around and out for a corner. Irritating, as before the game over on Twitter the home fans were scratching their head at the inclusion of Maxwell, but he had a very decent game and you could argue he was the difference between a draw and a Sunderland win.
Most of my mates who I talked to at half time felt we needed to get Michut off the pitch sooner rather than later, but it’s not in Mogga’s makeup to rag players off at half time and there was no change here. Edou got an extra 15 minutes to turn things around and to be fair to him, the five minutes before he went off were probably his best spell in the game.
Still, he was scared to tackle after receiving his yellow card and it was limiting our ability to break down Blackpool attacks, so a change was inevitible - and for me it was the introduction of Abdoullah Ba that swung the game back in our favour.
He was the missing piece of the puzzle in attack, and suddenly everything seemed to knit together more easily than it had for the hour before he entered the pitch.
Blackpool received an early warning sign when Ross Stewart crashed a shot off the bar (which dubiously was given as an offside, despite the Scot looking level), but they weren’t able to stop him the second time around when he nabbed the goal that got us a point.
Jack Clarke’s early cross wasn’t pinpoint but it caused enough mayhem to create an opportunity in the aftermath, and after Blackpool failed to clear it, Trai Hume - who was fantastic all afternoon - grabbed another assist when he read the situation quickly to nod the ball into a dangerous area which Ross Stewart took advantage of, flicking an effort goalwards that was too powerful for Maxwell.
That was Stewart’s ninth goal in 11 games in the Championship this season - and with instincts like that, it’s clear to see why clubs in the Premier League are apparently monitoring his contract situation closely.
The rest of the half was all Sunderland - we did just about everything but score.
Despite how clinical Ross Stewart is, he’ll rue missing the opportunity he stuck wide after a chest height cross from Amad was played along the face of goal. Stooping to meet the ball, he didn’t get enough on it and flicked it wide instead of towards goal - perhaps the worst miss of Ross Stewart’s Sunderland career to date.
Our attack continued to get at Blackpool but weren’t able to take advantage, and despite Connolly receiving a red card for a second yellow in injury time, the game ended a tie with a point going to each side.
How do we feel about the end result, then?
On the balance of play you’d have to say a point was probably a fair result, with Blackpool shading the first half and us the second. That said... because we dominated pretty much all of the latter period of the game, it’s natural to feel disappointed that we didn’t win it.
We didn’t do enough to win the game - it’s as simple as that.
We had good chances to score more goals but we weren’t quite at it - and I’m still not quite sure how Stewart missed the open goal late in the second half, but given he scores with almost every chance he has, we can let him off on this occasion.
My dad always says “any point away from home is a good point” and that saying always comes to mind when we draw on the road, so whilst I feel like a win was up for grabs here, I won’t be disappointed with the draw or the fact that we’ve taken 7 points from a possible 9 over the festive period - a cracking return for a team riddled with injuries and illness.
My Man Of The Match: Trai Hume. He was seriously impressive throughout and capped off his performance with a quick thinking assist that further cements his credentials as our first choice right back. I’m a fan of Lynden Gooch has a character and professional, but there’s no escaping that right back is a new position for him, and one he’s still learning. Hume is younger and crucially, is a natural right back. We’ve been calling for Hume to get more chances here on the website and over on the Podcast and it’s nice to see him getting them now after a bit of good fortune. To me he’s our best right back and deserves to hold his spot - I’d be disappointed if he’s not still at the club by the end of January.