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The three biggest issues facing Tony Mowbray when Sunderland return from the international break

The international break offers us the chance to reflect on the season so far - so, what does Tony Mowbray have to work on most in order to push Sunderland even further up the table?

Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Getting our strikers to start scoring goals

This is the most obvious problem of them all that is staring Tony Mowbray straight in the face, but a problem he must solve nonetheless - how on earth does he find a solution to our problem with centre forwards scoring goals?

We signed four strikers in the summer, yet midway through November thus far none of them have managed to notch.

We gave Mason Burstow a good run at it but he only really turned in one half-decent performance, away at Sheffield Wednesday. Other than that he’s struggled to get anywhere near scoring a goal.

Hemir has barely been seen bar near the end of games off the bench, and despite getting into some good positions he’s yet to stick anything away.

Nazariy Rusyn has looked really useful and I actually think he’s been unlucky. If it wasn’t for the post against Birmingham he’d have got his first for the club - he’s getting closer.

And though Eliezer Mayenda has been injured since signing and only made his first appearance in the latter stages of that Birmingham game, he looks really handy and he’s the one out of that group that Mowbray has been most enthusiastic about when describing the possibilities of what he could bring.

Whatever the case may be, I think we really have to try and build our play around involving the forwards more, and creating better chances. It’s been noticeable in recent weeks that we’ve started getting more crosses into dangerous areas thanks to Clarke and Roberts, but that hasn’t been the case for most of the season. I guess we just need to keep it up.

We’re still winning games and we’re still scoring goals, but a goalscoring striker is worth their weight in gold, particularly when you’re aiming for promotion.

He’s got to make a choice, really - does he stay the course with Rusyn when it looks like a goal might be around the corner... or, does he throw Mayenda in despite being raw, but ultimately the one of the four that he rates the most... or, does he give Burstow or Hemir a second chance... or, does he go with two up front and change the shape?

Whatever the case may be, it’s a top priority. We’ve got to justify having these four lads about the place before January rolls around.

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

More clean sheets

I was listening to a Podcast with Sam Allardyce recently, and he pointed something really obvious out which probably doesn’t get said enough - that the teams that win things always have the most clean sheets, so if you want to win something... it would maybe be a good idea to sort your defence out.

I’m largely content with the way we’ve defended this season, though I’ll admit that a side effect of our expansive style of play is that we will concede some sloppy goals.

That said, there’s really no excuse for some of the poor play we’ve seen in recent weeks, particularly on set pieces or when play has been turned over quickly. I don’t know if that’s just a result of inexperience or what, but we have to nip it in the bud.

We keep hearing opposition managers and coaches talking about how we’re one of the best teams in the division, and I’d agree, but I’d substitute some of that style if it meant we were tighter at the back, particularly in the second half of the season where every result seems to mean just a little bit more.

Mowbray was keen to point out recently that we work hard on our set pieces in training, but are we working hard enough? I suppose he’s been let down by the mistakes of his players recently, like the tugging from O’Nien in the box against Swansea which led to him giving a penalty away, or the marking for the goal we conceded against Leicester. Then there’s the defending in the game against Norwich - the like of which has plagued us all season.

We rarely concede a goal where you think “christ, what a goal that was” - it’s generally always come as a result of a mistake we’ve made.

Mowbray and his team need to find a way to remedy that, as keeping more clean sheets will be key to whether or not we finish in the top six - we can’t just rely on outscoring everyone.

Leicester City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images

Figuring out a way to get the best from Patrick Roberts

Everyone knows that Tony Mowbray’s favourite player is Patrick Roberts, and as we could tell from the photographs announcing his new deal, nobody was happier to see Mini Messi tied down to a longer-term deal.

But, even the biggest Patrick Roberts fan in the world would have to admit that his actual end product this season hasn’t been great. He’s got zero goals, and one assist - not great from a player who starts whenever he’s fit and plays in a team that scores a fair amount of goals.

Now that the contract situation which must have been weighing heavily on his mind has been resolved, Roberts really needs to start repaying some of that faith shown in him by sticking the ball in the back of the net more often, and creating meaningful chances that lead to goals. He’s a superb footballer, but it would be nice to see even more from him.

If you could add end product to Patrick Roberts’ game he’d walk into most Premier League sides, and unlocking that ability is one of the things Mowbray needs to work hardest on.

We saw a flourishing partnership between Roberts and Amad last season, and perhaps that’s the answer - to find a player in the squad who has the ability to link up and work on the same wavelength as him.


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