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Sunderland v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship

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Fan Letters: “We can’t ignore the positives from this season, because there have been plenty!”

Thoughts on the progress made this season, more reflections on the Stoke defeat, and suggestions for a new number ten and possible formation changes are in the RR mailbox today! Email us:

Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I’ve been proud to support the Black Cats for seventy years, and I suggest the whole club should now look at the positives and reflect on the season so far.

Yes, we want to win but all supporters should not be criticising now, when three months ago we were on a wave of success in our first season of trying to get back to the Premier League.

My thoughts are now on 2023/2024 and we should applaud what the manager and players have done this season.

Go out and enjoy your football for the rest of the season!

John Ruecroft

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, John. Thanks for your letter!

I agree that there’s been plenty to be positive about this season.

We’ve played some excellent football and have picked up some superb results, and we’ve done it with an exciting young team who’ll only get better, especially if they can emerge from their current slump in form.

If we’re in the Championship again next season, the aim should be to progress and with some good additions in the summer, there’s no reason why we can’t do that.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Having been a Sunderland supporter since the days of Len Shackleton, I’ve found it very interesting to read the opinions of various journalists and supporters since the Stoke game and what they believe went wrong last Saturday.

It’s my turn to write about what I believe contributed to the horrendous result.

In my opinion, it was partly due to sections of our own supporters who need to grow up and stop bad-mouthing and booing opposition players and managers they dislike.

All they’re doing is to motivating them to play out of their skins, and to perform way beyond their usual level, and a prime example of this was Dwight Gayle’s performance.

Prior to Saturday, he’d played almost thirty games for Stoke this season and had scored only one goal. How many did he score against us?

During the interval, when we were only one goal down, Alex Neil must’ve really enjoyed his motivational team talk after the stick he took. Perhaps he used many Scottish adjectives to describe the abusers (that I’m unable to print here in case I offend anyone), as the second half was a nightmare.

Neil therefore left the Stadium of Light a very happy man, and his job was made so much easier thanks to sections of our supporters, and that’s putting it mildly.

Roker Rob

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Rob. Thanks for getting in touch.

Saturday was certainly an absolute nightmare as Neil’s return ended in the worst possible way for the fans whose respect he earned by guiding us to promotion.

It was inevitable that he’d get plenty of stick after the way in which he left the club, and as you say, perhaps that motivated him and his players to really take the game to us.

I think all you can do is say ‘fair play’ because he got his tactics spot on, and we simply didn’t handle Stoke well at all.

Sunderland v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Will Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Would it be ludicrous to suggest playing Luke O’Nien in the number ten position?

It would alleviate our problems with having a focal point, and he can press from the front.

He also played in that position with success at Wycombe Wanderers prior to signing for us, and has he ever let us down when given a new task to carry out?

I honestly think it could work.

John from Barrow

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, John. Thanks for getting in touch.

Ordinarily, this idea might be dismissed as a radical step too far, but at the same time, who would’ve thought that O’Nien would be so successful in defence while Dan Ballard was injured?

What he would give us in an attacking sense is some presence, some drive, and a bit of aggression, which we lack right now.

Quite how well he could occupy opposition defenders isn’t as clear, but perhaps it might be worth trying just to see what the outcome could be.

Queens Park Rangers v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

The recent slump in form is hard to take as we were well in the mix for promotion.

We can’t blame the team, as we lack a centre forward and the games are coming thick and fast. What also we found out is that Joe Gelhardt can’t lead the line on his own. The lad is definitely trying his best and we can’t blame him.

We could try a change in formation to give him a partner up top by going with a 3-5-2 formation.

Maybe someone like Jack Clarke or Jewison Bennette can do a job there, because they’re good finishers, and Lynden Gooch and Dennis Cirkin returning gives us some good options at full back.

An extra man at the centre of the defence could prevent us from leaking goals, because we know is that this team definitely has goals in the bank.

Let’s get behind the team no matter what!


Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Adarsh. Thanks for your letter!

I do agree that some changes in personnel and maybe formation are needed, starting with this weekend’s game against Norwich.

I’d love to see Pierre Ekwah get a start in midfield, because he ticks a lot of boxes, and I think Bennette’s pace and movement mean he could be a viable option to play up top.

What’s obvious is that many of our players are not quite in peak form right now, and they would certainly benefit from a game or two out of the starting eleven. Burning players out is always a concern, and we’re in danger of repeating it again.

Sunderland v Reading - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images


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