After some lively performances and four goals scored during pre-season, it’s fair to say that there was a good deal of expectation surrounding Luis ‘Hemir’ Semedo Silva ahead of Sunday’s Championship opener against Ipswich.
Upon his arrival from Benfica, his imposing build seemed to suggest that the club had signed him in the belief that he could fill the Ross Stewart-shaped void in our attack- a daunting assignment in itself, given the Scot’s iconic status on Wearside and his ability to close down, defend from the front and bring others into play.
However, with Stewart still on the comeback trail and no other strikers currently available, Hemir already finds himself carrying a significant burden during his debut campaign in red and white.
Even if the nineteen-year-old was tasked with the challenge of leading the line against a well-drilled Ipswich defence, there was certainly cause to believe that he could trouble the visiting backline and perhaps even continue where he’d left off against Mallorca, by making a positive impression with a first competitive goal.
However, it’s fair to say that Tony Mowbray’s best laid plans for the strapping frontman didn’t come to pass, but nor was his Championship bow a complete calamity, either.
In truth, Hemir didn’t look out of his depth, lazy or disinterested.
Instead, he merely looked like a young striker who wasn’t receiving much in the way of service, who seemed very isolated at times, and was therefore unsure as to how he could affect the game. Overall, it was probably a 6/10 debut- nothing spectacular but no worse than that.
So, with Hemir as our only fit striker, albeit with potential reinforcements hopefully in the pipeline, how can we take advantage of his undoubted quality and help to guide him towards the goal trail?
On Sunday, it was glaringly apparent that the standard of service into the striker, both from the wings and through the middle, simply wasn’t up to our usual reliable standards.
Jack Clarke lacked no effort on the left wing, but little that he tried came off, and on the other flank, Patrick Roberts, now playing without the benefit of his almost telepathic link with Amad, couldn’t quite find the killer pass or an accurate cross to bring the big frontman into the game,
Last season, the absence of a physical presence upfront forced us to alter our style of play, with more emphasis placed on intricate build up play, intelligent use of space, and a quick-paced passing and moving philosophy that was as exciting as any Sunderland team has ever utilised.
It was an approach that often worked like a charm, as we saw during our trips to Reading and West Bromwich Albion, but with an athletic if admittedly raw number nine now leading the line, it does give us another option.
Perhaps what’s needed at this stage is a little less intricacy and more directness, and in turn, Hemir’s aim should be to assert himself more; to use that physical presence to disrupt defensive lines, win his aerial duels, and make life tough for whoever is marking him.
That’ll come with time and confidence, and Mowbray and his coaches will doubtless be working to build that up. In turn, we need to ensure that we get the ball into him as quickly and accurately as possible, either from the flanks or through the middle.
Yes, there’s a time to knock the ball around, keep the opposition on the back foot and wait for an opening, but there’s also a time to be direct and at this stage, I feel the latter is the best option.
This brings us to the burning question of who (should we choose to play such a system) Sunderland’s first choice in the number ten position should be.
On Sunday, the starting role was given to Jobe, who did a fine job and could well offer us a different option there when necessary. However, with Alex Pritchard and Bradley Dack waiting in the wings, perhaps their experience and nous could be of greater use to us.
Both Pritchard and Dack have a keen eye for a pass as well as the ability to make space where none seemingly exists and to anticipate movement from their teammates.
If one or even both of them can form an understanding with Hemir and begin to piece together some reliable patterns of play, we might be onto a winner, and this weekend’s trip to Preston could be the ideal chance to try it.
The phrase ‘oven-ready striker’ is something you hear a lot in Sunderland circles at the moment, and maybe the recruitment team have a fully-formed striker on their radar who can hit the ground running if and when he arrives.
In the meantime, though, let’s give Hemir exactly what he deserves: time, patience, and the space to find his feet and develop his game.
He’s got a lot to learn and much to improve, but developing promising players is very much ‘the Sunderland way’ nowadays, and that’s exactly the kind of approach that could pay dividends as we seek to get our season up and running.