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Fan Letters: “Tony Mowbray needs to show he can take Sunderland to the next level”

Thoughts on Mowbray’s position, Sunderland’s tactics, Jack Clarke’s influence and Harry Gardiner’s future are in the RR mailbox today! Got something to say? Email us: RokerReport@yahoo.co.uk

Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images


Dear Roker Report,

I’d like to address the comments of many fans that we need to buy a striker because we have four ‘duds’, and I’d also like to address a harsh reality about Tony Mowbray.

Our recruitment team have got things right far more often than they’ve got things wrong, and I’d even go as far as to say they’ve virtually never got it wrong!

That being the case, what are the odds they’ve got it wrong with our strikers four times out of four? The chances of that being the case are astronomical to the point of being a virtual impossibility.

The fact is that we have four decent to good strikers that aren’t being utilised properly and aren’t getting the required service. That’s down to the coaching staff, which brings me to Mowbray.

I like him as a man and as a coach and I hope things work out for him, but sentiment aside, there’s a harsh reality about being part of this Sunderland setup.

We have world class facilities and we have a squad bursting with young talent. The club have provided players who are certainly capable of making the playoffs and I’d actually go as far as saying the club have provided players capable of winning automatic promotion.

I was at the Ipswich game at the start of the season and although they were far more clinical in front of goal, we looked the most talented team by a mile. They were nothing special, yet they’re second in the league.

The point is that the club have provided the tools to get the job done and it’s Mowbray’s job to get a tune out of them. They’ve shown they’re capable of making some big calls and I can see them doing it again.

I don’t think we’re in danger of relegation, so I fully expect Mowbray to see out this season unless there’s a complete collapse. However, if we don’t at least make the playoffs, and possibly if we don’t get promotion, he’ll be shown the door in May.

As much as I like Mowbray, I think this is fair enough.

We have a great team that should be getting promoted, so if he’s too limited to achieve the goal, he has to go. Our recruitment of players encourages me to believe that if he’s sacked, we’ll recruit an excellent replacement who can take us a step further.

Andrew White

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Andrew. Thanks for your letter.

Whilst I think it was absolutely right that Tony Mowbray stayed on as head coach after our sixth-place finish last season, I do agree that as a result of the heightened expectations that followed our playoff run, 2023/2024 is a pivotal season for him.

Francesco Farioli, a coach who was rumoured to be on our radar during the summer, is doing extremely well in France, but even if we’d hired him, there’s no guarantee that would’ve been the right man for us, so I don’t see any reason to be hung up on him.

Regarding our squad, the fact that our strikers haven’t hit the ground running is frustrating, but with time and patience, I believe they’ll start to show their worth.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Mowbray remains the right man to oversee the continued development of this squad and to keep us challenging in the upper reaches of the table. The players seem to enjoy playing for him, and that’s worth a lot.

However, I do agree that if we fall short of promotion or miss the playoffs entirely, there’s a strong chance that his time will come to an end. I just hope that if and when that day comes, it’s an amicable parting rather than a bitter one, considering all he’s done for us since he arrived.

Sunderland v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Martin Swinney/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I assume that the current 4-1-4-1 system is intended to get Dan Neil further forward more often, but if so, it’s at the cost of leaving Pierre Ekwah and the defence more exposed, most notably when we’re away from home.

Our first four home games brought nine points with the 4-2-3-1 system, but our form during the first four away games with the same formation reads seven points from twelve.

For comparison, our last four home matches with a 4-1-4-1 formation also yielded nine points, but a solitary point from our last four away games shows the frailty of the system, especially considering we were so strong away from the Stadium of Light last season and into this one.

Obviously, things changed after Ekwah was injured, but it seems strange that we haven’t since gone back to what was (statistically, at least) our most productive system once both Ekwah and Neil were available again, if only for the away matches.

I think we might have more joy on the road if we set up in a 4-2-3-1 and invite the home team on to us, as we did with Southampton at home.

If we can force them out, we can hit them on the counter and if it doesn’t work and they just sit back, we take the point and go home happy.

Four points from twelve is still better than one, and if we can snag the odd win along the way, so much the better.

Phil Clayton

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Phil. Thanks for getting in touch.

This is quite a difficult one to work out, because our away form was a real strength last season, whereas our home form was ropey.

This season, however, the opposite seems to be true, and we’ve sometimes struggled to find the solution when we’re away from the Stadium of Light, despite some good away results thus far.

I do agree that at times, our favoured away formation can leave the midfield somewhat exposed, and with Pierre Ekwah still returning to full fitness and therefore not able to influence games as much as he’d like, we’re often caught a little bit flat-footed, particularly during the transition.

Our Roker Report colleague Tom Albrighton highlighted the possibility of a switch in formation in a recent article, and it’ll be interesting to see how Tony Mowbray sets us up for what looks like a very tricky and physical game against Millwall on Saturday.

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

Dear Roker Report,

Everyone outside Sunderland is speculating about Jack Clarke moving on, which we all hope he doesn’t, because he’s the best winger I’ve seen since Billy Bingham.

People are moaning on about giving younger players more game time but I’m sure Tony Mowbray knows what he’s doing. That said, I would make a couple of personnel and positional changes.

Put Luke O’Nien behind Patrick Roberts, play Dan Neil in the middle and Alex Pritchard on the left to back up Jack Clarke, and start Eliezer Mayenda at centre forward.

Several players need to be loaned out to give them more experience but we should keep the first team intact. Barring injuries and illness, we can get into the top six and stay there.

Let’s get to Wembley and show the rest how it’s done.

Bill Calvert

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Bill. Thanks for your letter.

I may be proven wrong on this if a top flight club makes an offer we can’t refuse for Jack Clarke in January, but I’m confident that he’ll spend the entire season at the Stadium of Light, and if he does, that keeps our aspirations very much alive.

On changes in personnel, the one player that stands out to me is Alex Pritchard, because I think he could be someone who can help our strikers to get the kind of service they need.

He’s always had a good eye for a pass and he’s always composed in possession, so if we’re looking for someone who can help to ignite our misfiring strike force, he’s potentially got a huge role to play, but only off a striker and not marooned out on the left.

Sunderland v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Why is it that Sunderland won’t play Harry Gardiner?

He’s also young like the others, so please give him a go, even if it’s just from the bench.

Shack (in Australia)

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Shack. Thanks for getting in touch.

The last time I checked, Gardiner was playing for our U21’s having signed a new deal during the summer.

It seems that he could be some way from being in the first team picture, but the pathway from the academy is definitely there, so if he keeps applying himself and finding the net, he might have a chance in 2024!

Sunderland AFC U21 v Manchester United U21: Premier League 2 Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

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