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Rotherham United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - AESSEAL New York Stadium

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Roker Roundtable: How can Sunderland solve their midfield conundrum for Coventry?

After a tough game against Rotherham, is it time for Pierre Ekwah to start, or should Tony Mowbray stick with Dan Neil and Edouard Michut? We asked our writers for their thoughts

Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images

Gav says…

It depends on how we approach the game and how seriously we take Coventry.

For me the selection of Neil and Michut at Rotherham was an indicator of complacency from Tony Mowbray, in that we - perhaps arrogantly - thought we could go there and outplay them.

However, despite Rotherham’s plight, their players work incredibly hard and our greater technical ability mattered not a jot when the lads selected failed to compete physically. I don’t think it was for the want of trying; it just doesn’t suit their game and we’ve played a lot of football in a short space of time.

The time to start Ekwah was at Rotherham and I’m not sure that the Coventry game necessarily suits him just yet. I’d be more inclined to start Michut with Luke O’Nien and give Neil a break, because it’s badly needed.

The mistake he made which led to the second Rotherham goal was a tired one, because Neil at his sharpest doesn’t make that error. That was only one incident in an entire ninety minute performance where he really struggled to compete against players who couldn’t live with him on his best day.

We’ve got a week between the Coventry and Stoke games and we need Neil back to his best, so my suggestion would be to bring Trai Hume back in at right back to free up Luke O’Nien in the middle in Neil’s place, paired with Michut who was rested at QPR and should theoretically be sharper than Neil is at the minute.

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

Malc Dugdale says…

I think Neil and Michut will play again at the weekend, but the sooner the likes of Ekwah are ready, the better.

For me, one factor of the midfield performance on Tuesday were the tactics applied by Rotherham.

We expected them to be direct and more ‘long ball’ than opting for intense pressing, bossing the middle and stopping us playing, so their game plan, as well as our setup, increased the challenge.

Another issue is that Ekwah isn’t fully match fit yet, but there is the option to start him until the early intensity eventually wanes, to allow the likes of Neil and Michut to craft their way past more tired minds and bodies.

Tactically, Rotherham got one up on us, which we have to accept and use as a lesson for the remaining games.

These lads are still kids and they’ll only learn by experiencing these types of games.

As one of our Roker Report colleagues pointed out in recent articles, they’ve been incredible this season, so they can have a bad day and bounce back with a fair bit of credit in the bank.

I fully expect them to do so over the coming games, because they’ve shown time and again that they can operate well in this league. They’re future stars that are doing really well most of the time, and we need to remember that and expect dips and peaks.

Let’s see another peak at the weekend and put Tuesday night behind us. We believe in you lads, so get back out there and do your thing on Saturday.


Tom Albrighton says…

Despite sub-optimal performances against Rotherham, it’s safe to say that both Neil and Michut have enough credit in the bank to warrant starting against Coventry.

Although midfield was an issue almost for the entirety of the game, it wasn’t the only one, with Tony Mowbray shouldering the blame for changes in formation that ultimately backfired.

Given the nature of Mowbray and the club as a whole, both players will likely find themselves afforded the opportunity to put right the wrongs of Tuesday’s shock defeat in Yorkshire.

It’s true that management sometimes has to be cut-throat but in recent weeks, Neil and Michut have been the heartbeat of some of this season’s best performances.

Part of the development of young players is allowing them to play through sticky spells and although one poor performance as part of a team that underperformed in all departments doesn’t signal a sticky spell, it’s important specifically for them to develop the ability to bounce back after such showings.

For that reason alone, I believe Neil and Michut should play again on Saturday.

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