Sunderland made a bright start!
I’ll start on a positive note: we dominated the early exchanges of this game, with Sky Sports noting that we enjoyed 77% possession in the opening fifteen minutes.
We got about Coventry, working the ball into the box and nearly drawing a penalty thanks to Jack Clarke’s quick feet.
It was clear that Tony Mowbray had decided that Tuesday’s approach of trying to match Rotherham’s physicality had to go out of the window. We were going to stick to our guns and attempt to pass the opposition to death as we’ve done on many occasions this season.
However, we barely tested Sunderland academy graduate Ben Wilson in the home goal and from then on, it was men against boys all too often.
Our frailties were exposed once again
For the second time in a week, we got a painful reminder of the fragilities within in our squad.
I think you’d have to say that we generally have more talented ball players than the likes of Rotherham or Coventry, but faced with their in-your-face approach, we crumbled.
Mark Robins’ team were very crafty, with plenty of tactical fouling, time wasting and ear bending of the referee. We didn’t know how to respond, getting drawn into petty squabbles and failing to pass through their organised defence.
Breaking these sides down isn’t easy, and we’re certainly hamstrung by our lack of an actual striker.
We’re going to have to find the answers sooner or later though, or it could be a very long run-in. I’m hoping that it’s simply a case of tiredness and that a week’s break ahead of the Stoke game will put things right, but I’m not entirely convinced, because we looked short on ideas as well.
Joe Gelhardt struggles again
A great example of the ‘men against boys’ comparison was the anonymous performance of Gelhardt.
I do feel for him, because he’s been thrust into a team who’ve lost their talismanic striker and Gelhardt is trying to find his own feet in senior football. It’s a tough ask and you can see his frustration when things don’t go right.
That said, I can’t hide my disappointment with his contribution.
Despite his goal at Rotherham, he continues to offer very little and when you’re better off playing with no recognised striker, it doesn’t say much for the guy who takes his place.
Like the rest of the team, he was clearly trying but in contrast to Coventry and especially Viktor Gyokeres, it was totally ineffective. When we do have the ball, he isn’t getting on it enough and is making the wrong choices when he does.
For me, he needs a spell out of the team to work on his game and come back once Mowbray shows him how to actually add value to our attack. Until then, we’re just unnecessarily bashing his confidence for little reward.
The Diallo dilemma
Finally, a word on Amad, because he spent much of the game driving me mad.
As has been the case too often recently, he drifted in and out of the game and I can recall two occasions where he almost inexplicably gave away the ball in very dangerous areas.
Granted, Coventry kicked lumps out of him at times and if anyone can explain why he was carded after being fouled about four times in a row at the end of the first half, I’ll buy you a pint.
Frustratingly, his response for most of the time seemed to be to hide somewhat.
Whereas Patrick Roberts looked for the ball again and again and was really trying to be positive, Amad was a passenger at times and I would’ve happily seen him subbed.
As we all know, he’s more than capable of moments of magic such as his consolation goal in added time, and if the rest of the team could’ve limited the damage to one goal at that stage, we’d probably be feeling relieved to come away with a point.
Fair play to Mowbray for sticking with him. He’s got confidence in his young starlets and in this case it nearly paid off.
It wasn’t our day on Saturday, but let’s hope a goal of that quality will bring us some much-needed joy against Stoke next Saturday.