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Sunderland v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship

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Matchday Musings: Sunderland’s Mr Hyde performance gives Michael Beale a lot to think about

All of the poor aspects of the lads’ season were on display in a woeful Wearside display.

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

However difficult Micheal Beale thought his job at Sunderland was at 3pm today, it increased tenfold in the space of 90 minutes after the lads turned in an abject display at the Stadium of Light.

Before the game, Beale raised eyebrows by including Abdoullah Ba, who’s been poor in his past two starts, in place of Alex Pritchard, who withdrew from the team through illness. I did assume Bellingham would have been upfront looking at the starting XI, but no - it was Ba. Just bizarre, and he was thrown to the wolves to some extent.

Even if Pritchard had been starting there, it would have been odd. Surely, Beale wants to solve the striking problem? We simply need to play with a striker and figure out a system to get them scoring goals. Maybe he thought it was too early to do that today – I suspect his thoughts will have changed by now. Playing Ba upfront and leaving strikers on the bench started the whole thing off on the wrong foot to be perfectly honest.

Sunderland v Coventry - Sky Bet Championship
Ba should have scored – but should he have been playing upfront to begin with?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The new head coach got a pretty good reception when he was introduced to the crowd at kick off, and we actually got off to a decent start, dominating the ball and moving it around with purpose - however, there was a familiar lack of cutting-edge, both in terms of movement up front and sharpness in the box. The problems we saw today are nothing new; they’ve been there all season.

The first real chance in the game came on 20 minutes - Jack Clarke rifling in a shot from the edge of the box, which goalkeeper Collins could only parry out to Ba. The pseudo-striker could only blaze the ball over from a few yards out.

It was a sitter, and the sort of chance you simply have to score.

Missing that golden opportunity seemed to drain our confidence, and Coventry should have been ahead a few minutes later, Patterson pulling off a brilliant double save to twice stop the Sky Blues taking the lead.

While Coventry responded well to their let-off, Sunderland didn’t seize their second chance, and Coventry came increasingly into the game as the match became a more even contest.

With halftime approaching, however, we shot ourselves in the foot. O’Nien was dragged out of position after a Patterson chip towards Huggins saw the right back push upfield, and O’Nien was dragged out of position by Haji Wright, with whom he engaged in a tussle for the loose ball.

Sunderland v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light
O’Nien was more focused on Wright than the ball in the build up to Coventry’s opener
Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

O’Nien seemed more concerned with the physical battle with Wright than the ball, and consequently, both ended up on the ground. The ball came into the box, and while Patterson saved the first attempt, the ball bounced back off Sakamoto into the goal to give Coventry the lead.

It was a scrappy goal, and coming just before halftime was a bit of a sucker punch after a satisfactory, if not impressive first 45.

Moments later, we could have been two down after another bout of Luke O’Nien wrestling in the box. O’Nien earned a booking after being pulled up by the ref for a second time, and was fortunate the Coventry corner taker wasn’t more switched on - as the ball wasn’t in play the referee couldn’t give a penalty. If Coventry had taken the kick a moment before, it would have been.

I’m a huge fan of O’Nien, and think he gets unfairly criticised a lot of the time. Today, all criticism is well deserved. It was stupid.

Half time arrived and changes were clearly needed, however the same XI returned for the second half. Again, we started the half brightly but failed to seriously trouble the Coventry keeper. Roberts could have had a penalty after a lovely weaving run, and Clarke should have done better with a good couple of chances on his right foot in the box, which he failed to connect well with.

Sunderland v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship
Clarke wasted a few chances today
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

However, the mood quickly turned after the hour mark, when Coventry doubled their lead - O’Hare finishing well after a break down our right. The defence was dragged all over the shop, Ekwah was walking back, and we made it far, far too easy.

For some reason, we still didn’t make any changes, and three minutes later any hope was extinguished when Wright tapped in after a Patterson fumble. That’s a second goal-costing error in as many games from Patterson, and he could maybe do with some serious competition arriving in January.

Then things got ugly. Substitutions finally arrived to jeers from the home fans. While Ba had a poor first half he’d actually been one of our better players in the second half. He’s not a centre forward, and he didn’t deserve the ironic jeers that accompanied him off the field, likewise Ekwah who turned in another indifferent display. I suspect the ironic cheers were at the fact we’d made subs, rather than the two players coming off, but it sends a poor message.

Things then went from terrible to horrendous, with Niall Huggins suffering a seemingly serious injury. Huggins has had such wretched luck since he joined the club from Leeds, and had been in superb form this season. It’s such a shame and he’s likely to be out for a while. Here’s to a speedy recovery, Niall.

Sunderland v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship
Huggins’ injury overshadowed the result
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

There was a lot of negativity surrounding Beales's appointment, and while pre-match the reception he got was decent, his predecessor's name was then sung by both home and away fans after the third went in. Again, regardless of whatever we think about how Mowbray was treated, that doesn’t reflect well.

Today’s game wasn’t on Beale, however the one criticism I have was his lack of proactivity. Everyone on the ground could see we needed changes at halftime and then again after 15 minutes or so of the second half when we were still struggling to turn our possession into goals. We were crying out for changes and it wasn’t until we were three down that changes were made. Far too late to affect anything.

Sunderland v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship
Tough start
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Most concerning for me, however, was the players' response after the second goal went in. Our heads went down and the players looked despondent - and that is something we haven’t seen at all from this group before.

It was more like the last game of a manager’s reign than the first, and if there’s a positive to take out of it, Beale’s now got carte blanche to make any changes he wants.

With tough games at Hull and Rotherham coming up, we’ve got chances to make amends - and hopefully Beale has a greater idea of the problems he needs to solve as we head into a busy run of fixtures.

He’ll certainly have plenty to mull over while opening his Christmas presents on Monday anyway.


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