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What did you make of Nazariy Rusyn’s performance in his first Sunderland start?

The Ukrainian attacker was brought into the starting eleven on Saturday and showed some flashes of real promise. We asked our writers for their thoughts on his performance

Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Andrew Smithson says…

The lad ran himself into the ground and was on his toes throughout, so for me it was an encouraging full debut.

I think it was the first time we’ve seen him playing through the middle and whilst he isn’t the biggest, I doubt centre backs will like facing him if he continues pushing and being a nuisance.

However, whether he can provide goals or not isn’t going to be solely down to Rusyn.

We don’t know what his composure is like, but given the way we play I can’t see him getting hatfuls of chances. Even if he is a tidy finisher, expecting a striker to be firing on all cylinders is tough when they don’t get opportunities to get their eye in.

Other than the Preston North End game, I can’t think of many other occasions where we were regularly pulling the ball back across goal or whipping crosses in.

Instead, our forward play is based more around cutting inside or having players running into the box from deep and in the main, it’s worked for us. Yes, it would be good if we had a threat through the middle as well, particularly in certain games, but rejigging things could potentially weaken other aspects or individuals and mean that we don’t play to our strengths.

On Saturday, he made some decent runs that went unnoticed and he would seem to have a good football brain.

It was a shame that he was off the pitch by the time things had opened up and we were getting a few more sights of goal, but when we go away to Swansea City, things may be a little less compact and then we’ll get a clearer idea.

We might find that once a striker scores, the floodgates open, but at the moment that would be a bonus. Individuals can contribute in other ways and based on the Norwich City match, Rusyn has the potential to be a useful option.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Robert Smith/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Anthony Gair says…

Football is weird, isn’t it? We haven’t got a striker that scores goals, yet we’re scoring freely from other areas of the pitch.

It’s not the 1990’s anymore!

Still, a first start for ‘Ukraine Bolt’ brought about a different way to attack, and trying to play him on the shoulders of defenders appeared to free up the wide players to move inside.

With Rusyn up top, Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts found it quite easy to turn inside the full back and the central players could find space in the box from the advancing defence.

If we can add goals to the excitement of Rusyn’s pace and attacking nous, I think we’ve bagged ourselves a ridiculous bargain.

Jonny Hawley says…

Rusyn has three attributes that place him light years ahead of his current competition: he’s rapid, he’s direct, and he actually tries to shoot!

We saw the benefit of his direct and pacy running throughout his sixty minute spell on the pitch against Norwich. He dragged defenders all over the place to create space for our midfield runners, from which Jack Clarke and Dan Neil combined beautifully to take advantage of for the second goal.

There was also the moment when he zipped past the full back and took the ball clear of the defence down the right side before playing a teasing cross into the box that Clarke was unlucky not to be able to get on target.

Do you see Mason Burstow or Hemir being able to make that run and play that ball? I certainly don’t.

He was also slightly unlucky not to make more of the pull back from Clarke in the six yard box just before coming off, too, as he nipped in ahead of the defender to try and poke it home but was just smothered and couldn’t get a clear view of goal.

When Burstow has been offering less goal threat than Dan Ballard, that’s a properly encouraging sign!

All of his individual moments aside, we just looked better going forward with Rusyn leading the line.

There was more movement, which created more space, which in turn allowed Clarke and others opportunities to steal into the box and get shots away, and gave them someone to hit with their passes, too. That’s only on his first start, and with a proper run of games, we could really start purring.

It’s Rusyn’s shirt until he gives it up, for me.

Sunderland vs Middlesbrough Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Mitch Marshall says…

For me, the most encouraging thing about Rusyn getting a start on Saturday was that it showed Tony Mowbray’s willingness to rotate our misfiring forwards, and he was spot on with his explanation of the decision to play the Ukrainian ahead of Mason Burstow.

The pressure has clearly been mounting on the young Chelsea loanee due to a lack of goals, despite some promising link up play and hard work defensively, and it was right to give one of our permanent signings a chance in that role, having looked bright in cameo appearances and in reserve games up to now.

I was happy with Rusyn’s contribution on Saturday, although I wouldn’t say it was head and shoulders above what Burstow has done this season.

Neither seem to actually get many shots away, but they make good runs in behind that often aren’t spotted or are neglected in favour of more patient buildup play.

Rusyn certainly also matched Burstow for work rate, and I think he looks a tad more physical. He made a great body check early in the first half that I couldn’t imagine Burstow pulling off at the moment.

We’ve developed a way of playing where the striker’s contribution isn’t necessarily defined by scoring goals, and yet again this weekend, we racked up a decent tally without our strikers notching or even assisting.

As others have pointed out elsewhere, Rusyn’s decoy run to drag defenders out of position for Dan Neil’s goal is more the sort of thing we may have to judge our strikers on going forward, even if Mowbray repeatedly pointed out that we do need our centre forwards to start scoring.

The result of all this is that until those goals start flowing, I don’t think we’ll have a ‘nailed on’ starting centre forward for the foreseeable future.

The strikers are there to provide energy and link up the play as much as anything, and so I think that means Rusyn and Burstow will share minutes, especially with the hectic festive period rapidly approaching.

Hemir seems to be lagging behind a bit in his overall play, so I suspect he’ll remain third choice, but once Eliezer Mayenda finally gets fit, he may add another dimension and provide a possible solution to this conundrum.

As usual from Mowbray, I think this is a sensible way of managing players who are still adapting to Championship football.

They all have a part to play and the competition for places between them can surely only spur them on to start hopefully bagging a few more (or indeed any) goals on top of their encouraging all round play.


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