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Rotherham United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Matchday Musings: Fortunate Sunderland grab a point after an utterly predictable display

“We didn’t learn anything new about Michael Beale’s side as they salvaged a draw against Rotherham, but it was probably a decent point in the end,” writes Martin Wanless.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Our only two previous visits to the New York Stadium – the 2021/2022 horror show under Lee Johnson and last season’s trip under Tony Mowbray – have ended in defeat, so in some respects, last night’s point was a decent one.

Ahead of the games at Hull City and Rotherham, I’d certainly have settled for four points, however, we were pretty poor against the mediocre hosts and we passed up a good opportunity to get three points on Friday night.

The starting XI showed the one change I’d envisaged.

Adil Aouchiche came in for the injured Bradley Dack and we began the game in a similar fashion to many games recently: lots of possession but little cutting edge. Dan Neil rifled a shot just wide, but that was about it.

The opening quarter of an hour or so was pretty much comfortable, with the exception of an injury to Patrick Roberts, who departed early with what looked like an upper calf pull.

That could keep him out for a week or two, and although he’s not been the most productive this season, he does keep us ticking over and he’d begun the game well.

Rotherham United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - AESSEAL New York Stadium Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

On twenty minutes, however, Rotherham almost took the lead three or four times.

First, we got caught on the break as Sam Nombe - who looks more like a bouncer than a Championship striker - was unable to capitalise and Anthony Patterson saved well.

From the resulting corner, Patterson was forced to tip the ball over the bar before Nombe forced another decent save from the Sunderland keeper. From the corner that followed, Luke O’Nien, Trai Hume and Patterson combined to keep the Millers out once more.

Late in the first half, Jobe was booked for a routine foul. It was ridiculously harsh and it put the young midfielder on a knife edge for the rest of the game.

Another non-existent Jobe foul just before half time saw the home side push for a red and to be honest, I was expecting to see him subbed at the break.

In fact, it was Aouchiche who departed at half time, to be replaced by Mason Burstow, who joined Abdoullah Ba – Roberts’ replacement – on the field.

We also had Nazariy Rusyn and Jewison Bennette on the bench and if I was either of them, I’d be throwing in a transfer request today. Their lack of action in a team struggling for creativity and goals is absolutely baffling.

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

I don’t rate Ba but I can see that he’s got technical talent and he’s our player, so from that perspective, I can understand our perseverance with him.

Burstow, of course, is Chelsea’s player and he’s simply not a Championship striker.

I doubt whether he’d pull any trees up in League One but once more, he turned in a completely anonymous display. There’s no logic in his selection, and while I hate being critical of our players, it was like playing with ten men.

He barely touched the ball, and he had the same impact he’s managed in his previous appearances for us – zero.

I’m sure he’s a nice lad and I’m sure he’s got a load of potential but right now, he offers nothing. For me, we need to write that one off and send him back to Chelsea, as no one’s benefiting.

As it was, Rotherham took an early second half lead and it was a decent goal, with Sam Clucas volleying in from outside the box from a Pierre Ekwah header. It could’ve been defended better, but there was no argument with the finish.

Rotherham United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ed Sykes/Getty Images

From there, we resumed our usual pattern of play: plenty of possession but little cutting edge. Jack Clarke and O’Nien went close-ish, but we never really threatened the Rotherham goalkeeper.

Timothée Pembélé and Alex Pritchard were then introduced and improved the performance. Pritchard always does at present, they’re both pushing for a start, and Pritch was especially instrumental in getting us back on level terms.

After a period of possession, Clarke hit a shot from outside the box and into the ground, which took a deflection and flew past the keeper. Undeserved? Probably. Fortunate? Absolutely.

From there, we pressed without really looking like scoring, while Rotherham had a couple of efforts on the break. League One plodder Tom Eaves elbowed O’Nien not once but twice, and that was about it.

In the cold light of day, it was a decent point.

However, the performance and team selection gave little indication that Michael Beale is yet to have an impact on our overall style of play or is any closer to finding a solution to our lack of goal threat.

It’s a point, but we learned nothing and it wasn’t a game that’ll live long in the memory.

The quick turnaround to face Preston on Monday, however, may necessitate a change of personnel, and hopefully one or two fringe players will take their chance because, at present, we’re far too reliant on Clarke – and Premier League clubs will be circling.

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