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A strange first half
I could see what Mike Dodds was trying to do from the off yesterday, but unfortunately it didn’t really work.
In the absence of Jobe (who I can only presume was rested given his excellent recent form) we looked to press high and play with lots of men across the forward line.
In theory, this would’ve stretched Bristol City, giving our attackers scope to run at their men and either shoot or put balls across goal, and if the lively Patrick Roberts could’ve hit a barn door, we might’ve got away with it.
We also played several pullbacks and flashed the ball into the box multiple times and you can’t help but think that Jobe would’ve been there to finish one of them had he been on the pitch.
As it was, the flaws in this plan were fatally exposed.
Playing with such width, especially in our own half, resulted in us being overly exposed when giving the ball away and there was a certain inevitability about it eventually leading to the sort of calamity that resulted in Bristol’s opener.
By half time, it felt like one tactical twist too many from Dodds and we were lucky to be only one goal down after the dangerous Anis Mehmeti hit the post to almost double City’s lead.
Complacency creeping in?
Maybe this is harsh at the end of a week where we put in two terrific performances against top opposition, but I thought we looked quite complacent at times during the first half on Saturday.
Our slackness, both in our passing and with our underwhelming attempts to win the ball straight back, nearly cost us multiple times and eventually did cost us the first goal.
Luke O’Nien and Anthony Patterson in particular repeatedly played some really dire passes, which is especially worrying given that’s what O’Nien is supposed to be there for- to get us going from back to front.
I think this was partly down to how we were set up strategically, but it’s not the first time I’ve felt this way when we’ve played supposedly inferior opposition this season.
The same was true in the first half against Plymouth and Huddersfield at the tail end of Tony Mowbray’s time in charge, and those bad habits crept back in yesterday.
I really hope this isn’t a case of the lads turning up after encouraging results against ‘better’ teams and expecting to stroll past teams fighting for their lives in the bottom half of the table or trying to right poor recent form.
Some would excuse this by saying that it’s down to the different way these teams set up against us, trying to harry us more than playing their own game.
However, I don’t think either Plymouth, Huddersfield or Bristol City were that good in that respect, and so I think our approach to these kind of games is something the new head coach will really have to focus our players’ minds on.
Back to basics
We looked like a team transformed at the start of the second half, and much more like the version of Sunderland we’ve come to love over the past year or so.
This translated into almost total dominance for the rest of the game, and Jobe’s entrance, along with Adil Aouchiche, gave us more impetus from midfield to push on and look for a draw or even a comeback win. Ultimately, I do think we were pretty unlucky not to come away with anything from the game.
Seven points from the last three games would’ve been a really acceptable return, even if we would’ve expected to beat this Bristol City team in their current run of form.
As it was, a combination of some superb goalkeeping, a bit of bad luck, and a recurring lack of cutting edge means we’ve now lost nine league games this season, and we only lost thirteen times during the 2022/2023 campaign.
Where do we go next?
If it is to be Michael Beale who’ll be replacing Mowbray, there are clearly things for him to improve, despite how impressive we were against West Brom and Leeds.
Our forwards need to start scoring more regularly and our defence needs to stop giving away needless sloppy goals- especially away from home- no matter how flattering our play can be at times.
We can’t rely on Jobe to be our dynamo every week if we want him to get through the full season fit and firing like he has been.
Also, as much as I dislike drawing too many games, we need to grind out points in games like this even when we aren’t at our best to get anywhere near the magic ‘two points per game’ average.
That said, other than the head coach’s appointment, it’s obvious that there’s one thing that needs to be done in order to get us rocketing up the table: signing a striker.