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Stoke City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Two Up, Two Down: What are the positives & negatives from what happened to Sunderland at Stoke?

The Lads marked their return to Championship action with a frustrating to defeat to Alex Neil’s side on Saturday. What did our writers make of the game?

Photo by Jess Hornby/Getty Images

Jonny Hawley says...

Jobe Bellingham’s performance

How’s he only eighteen, and how’s he playing for us?

Jobe might not be banging in goals for Real Madrid (yet!) but he’s certainly making a very big name for himself at Sunderland, and another cracking performance underlined that.

He was heavily involved in the goal, maneuvering the ball nicely in the box before firing in the shot that was parried to Jack Clarke. Beyond that, he provided options in possession and was equally comfortable drifting past men with the ball at his feet or spraying passes left and right to get us out of danger and up the pitch.

He’s not just a fancy Dan; he’s got some bite in his game too, which referees may pick up on soon if he’s not careful!

Returning of the wounded

This was another game where the positives are more about who was on the pitch than the football we played on it, but it must be said that Pierre Ekwah’s return was a welcome boost, and seeing Alex Pritchard, Niall Huggins and Dan Ballard take the field after various knocks was another positive.

Once we get Aji Alese, Dennis Cirkin and Timothée Pembélé back, we’ll finally have a full quota of defenders to choose from, which after shipping six goals in two games, we look like we need.

Toothless up top

Following Clarke’s rapid reply to us going a goal behind, I’m struggling to think of any other clear cut chances.

Dan Ballard struck the post with a header in the second half, but very little else happened in open play. Seeing three strikers on the bench while this happens isn’t really good enough either. If we’re scoring five goals in a game, you can forgive it, but not yesterday.

Tony Mowbray needs to ask himself what he wants this team to look like, because we badly lacked an identity.

Too often, passes were zipped forwards for no real reason, with nobody seemingly on the same wavelength to make runs onto the end of things. We need a settled formation and frontline, and we need it fast.

Defensive deficiencies

Did we think we could somehow bully Stoke at the Potteries?

We set up with what was almost 4-2-4 formation, and only Ekwah and Ballard had any physical presence to counter a strong Stoke team. That the first goal came from a simple flick to an onrushing striker should be no shock, but we almost seemed caught out by it.

On top of that, our usually solid defenders seem to be struggling at the moment.

Ballard was beaten too easily for the aforementioned flick on, while Luke O’Nien, Trai Hume and Niall Huggins spent the game veering between ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘panicked’.

We need to see both Dan Neil and Ekwah together to screen the defence, and we clearly need to bolster our holding midfield options or we’ll see results like this repeated a few times this season.

Stoke City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Jess Hornby/Getty Images

Michael Dunne says...

Another goal for Jack Clarke

Although it’s fantastic to see Clarke scoring so prolifically, it still concerns me that he’s our top scorer.

For the sake of this, it’s great to see him playing so well and being so consistent. In truth, with the way he’s going, we’ll be lucky to hold onto him after this season.

Although his overall performance wasn’t that great, he still played a big role and he deserves praise for his performances this season.

Niall Huggins’ performance

I may have had a few pints and might not be thinking logically, but I felt Huggins was our best player.

He consistently took the game to Stoke and showed no fear, and although we lost, I felt Huggins was one of the few Sunderland players who could leave the pitch with his head held high.

A poor team performance

This was one of the worst games we’ve played this season.

With Tony Mowbray's teams. I fully expect them to compete and fight for results, and although we had control, we didn’t play particularly well and lacked a cutting edge.

Our toothless attack offered nothing up top.

A lack of cutting edge

In many ways, it’s fairly damning that we had no strikers up top.

With Mason Burstow, Luis Hemir and Nazariy Rusyn on the bench, it summed up Mowbray's lack of faith in his strikers, and we’re going to struggle somewhat if we don’t start to play with a striker through the middle.

Many people gave Hemir stick early doors but from what I’ve seen, I believe he’s the best option we have to play through the middle.

Tom Albrighton says...

Kit issues fixed

It was nice to see that Nike and Sunderland have listened and changed the shirt numbers on our third kit to navy.

It was clear on the kit’s first outing that white numbers left the shirts almost completely illegible, so the move to blue was nice- if not for the fact it made it easier to identify which Sunderland players were having a nightmare!

I got to go to the park!

The first half was absolutely turgid with the hangover from our 0-4 home defeat to Middlesbrough still lingering.

A tepid and meek display, thanks to a lack of balance and maybe some overly complicated tactical approaches, left little in the way of imagination for the second half.

Thanks to a nagging eighteen-month-old, I got some respite and a go on the swings. Sadly, I got back in time for the last half hour, which I sort of wish I hadn’t.

An unbalanced team

I don’t know whether it’s just me or whether we all see it, but we just can’t play Alex Pritchard and Patrick Roberts together if the latter isn’t out wide.

The team looked unbalanced on Saturday and lacking in genuine leg work, exposing both the full backs and the midfield.

Whilst it isn’t the fault of these two individuals alone, the penny has to drop that playing both together doesn’t bring as much to the table as it takes away.

Lack of reaction

You might’ve thought that after a shafting from both Jarred Gillett and Middlesbrough and a fortnight to stew over it would’ve garnered more reaction than was shown by the Lads against Stoke.

Leggy and slow, it was really disappointing to see such a lack of reaction. Maybe it was me expecting too much or maybe it was just rubbish, Dan Ballard excluded.

Stoke City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Jess Hornby/Getty Images


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