Dear Roker Report,
The lack of a number nine, namely Ross Stewart and to a lesser degree Ellis Simms, has fostered many a ‘what if?’ discussion for the majority of the season, but what if we look at the ‘glass half full’ aspect as opposed to the negative implications?
Following the injuries suffered by Stewart at Middlesbrough and Fulham and the injury and recall by Everton of Simms, we found ourselves looking for new means from which to score.
The build up play needed to be measured, the passing short and accurate, the initial control and decision making optimal and most importantly, the pace and movement constant and consistent.
The notable team goals on the break have been breathless and have even gone viral, but what’s even more impressive is how we’ve gradually and patiently learned how to open up teams who are already set up to defend, with little space to play and little room for error.
Sunday’s winner against WBA was the epitome of this.
Switching play across the eighteen yard line facing banks of defence and midfield, and eventually coming out, encouraging WBA to press before bursting forward into the space created. Crisp, short, measured passes whilst in rapid transition, and virtually unstoppable.
So, the glass half full is that with a number nine, would we have had almost a whole season to learn these new methods?
We’ve involuntarily added and perhaps almost mastered another aspect to our attack, and next season we’ll hopefully have the services of arguably the best out-and-out striker in the league.
This build up play, patience and passing through the lines in the final third, having almost being forced on us due to lack of a number nine has unintentionally added a further attacking facet to our game and hopefully allowing versatility next year when we do have a striker capable of participating in both.
The threat of a cross to Stewart will only add to opponents’ defensive worries, opening up play and space to carry out what we’ve done in the final third for most of this season. And if it’s not on, we’ll have the option of a more direct through ball or a cross into the danger area.
For this reason, I think Joe Gelhardt is a permanent signing we should pursue.
He’s a tenacious, aggressive and relentless player and despite only being 5’8, he’s done the best with what he’s got.
With Stewart engaging the big last man, we’d see Gelhardt with more time and space to turn in the ten role and face the goal. It’s a side of his game that’s been limited, but it’s also why he came so highly rated.
The future is bright with a young squad that Mowbray describes as having a ‘growth mindset’ and a feature no more evident than in the evolution of a more nuanced approach to attack: inexperienced but talented, receptive to instruction and fearless.
This season has been exponential in its improvement on the field and even more so in both the team’s and individual players’ realisation that they not only belong in the Championship, but they have what it takes to excel and succeed.
Whether it’s this season or the next, I’m here for the ride and I’m loving every minute of it.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Steve. Thanks for your letter!
I couldn’t agree more with your point of how we’ve had to alter our style of attack to cope with the absence of Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms.
As you say, it’s enabled us to develop a game based on sharp and quick movements, superb spatial awareness and the confidence to attempt passes and to take risks in order to keep attacks moving.
The second goal against West Brom was certainly a showcase of these qualities and Dennis Cirkin’s finish was superb as well. I think it demonstrates just how well coached these players are, because some of the football we’ve played this season has been truly wonderful.
Regarding Joe Gelhardt, his recent upturn in form has taken me by surprise but it’s also been great to see.
He’s never let his head drop despite enduring some frustrating spells since he arrived, and I’m actually starting to wonder whether there might be the possibility of him returning to Wearside next season.
His short-term future will certainly be interesting, without a doubt.
Dear Roker Report,
It’s with incredulity that I’ve read our club is looking at a management change in the near future. Surely this is just tacky journalism for the sake of readership figures?
I’m the first to admit that I was dead against the appointment of Tony Mowbray as I was convinced he was dour and uninspiring. However, I’ve been over the moon to eat huge dollops of humble pie as the season has progressed.
He came in at a time when everyone felt utterly let down by Alex Neil. He didn’t make grand speeches or give any false promises, but he quietly got on with the job of moulding these youngsters into the kind of team he wants and also believes we want.
The change has been amazing.
He’s extracted every last bit of skill and commitment from these kids and I’ve said it before and will say it again: even the great Fergie and Wenger couldn’t have done more with these boys.
If we’re really looking at changing the head coach, they need to look at the aforementioned facts, because who could do better than Mowbray? Nobody. It’s as simple as that.
We’ve had to change our playing style since Ross Stewart was injured and yet we still find ourselves in the top six. If we can see the facts, then why can’t the top brass? We need a statement from the club to either confirm or quash these rumours.
How must Mowbray be feeling knowing that this is doing the rounds at such a hugely pivotal time of the season? This is what the club does best, inasmuch as shooting itself in the foot.
We’ve got a huge season coming next time around and I genuinely believe we’ll make a real bid for the top two if we don’t achieve it this season, so keep Mowbray!
This team is his and the boys trust him. He bridges the gap and he makes every one of them feel special.
That’s extremely rare in football these days and the board needs to look at it all and not just try to run when we’re only just back on our feet.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Pip. Thanks for getting in touch!
Personally, I think the story of a potential change of head coach at the end of the season is a little bit of mischief-making from the media.
Mowbray’s done an absolutely sterling job this season, whilst overseeing the development of a young squad and dealing with a challenging injury list. For me, regardless of what happens between now and the end of the season, I’d like to see him remain at the club.
On the other hand, it’s obvious that those in the boardroom are thinking ahead and planning for the future, so I have no issues with potential head coaches being linked with the role.
Mowbray slotted in effortlessly when Alex Neil left, and hopefully it’ll be similar situation when he eventually departs, which hopefully won’t be for a while yet.
Dear Roker Report,
My name is Ken and I live and work in Bahrain. My home base is Roker and I’m a lifelong Sunderland fan and season ticket holder of many years.
I love the Roker Rapport podcast and I also love the new WhatsApp service. There are some great guys on the podcast with a great passion for our club!
I’ve never missed a game since the start of the streaming service on SAFSee. This has been an amazing season and long may it continue!
I’m looking forward to your pre-match podcast for the Watford game and of course the post-match, after we get three points in the bag.
Can I dream? It could be another expensive trip to Wembley for me and to meet up with my son and grandson.
SAFC Bahrain Branch
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Ken! Thanks for your letter and for your kind words. It’s always great to hear positive feedback for the work we do.
Regarding the Watford game, why can’t we go out there on Saturday and do the business?
There’ll be a huge crowd at the Stadium of Light and the players are in good form, so if we play like all know we can, there’s a great chance of moving ourselves one step closer to a playoff spot.
Here’s hoping we can get the victory before recording a celebratory post-match podcast and daring to dream of another trip to Wembley!