It’s silly season again. The last two weeks of the transfer window are upon us and the wilder fringes of our fanbase (mainly on social media) are stirring. Apparently we are a selling club, hawking our best prospects and replacing them with unknown kids. Reading some comments, you would think that Jack Clarke was already wearing a Burnley shirt.
The only relatively notable departure so far has been Isaac Lihadji. His background suggested that he was an overlooked talent who had lost his way. He showed little sign of finding it during his time here.
Despite his departure, just a few days ago, Jobe netted twice at the SoL to give us our first victory of the season. By his own admission, he could have had four. Tactically, we destroyed Rotherham in the second half, and the flowing football that we all enjoyed last season started to appear.
What also started to become clearer was Tony Mowbray’s plan for our second season back in the Championship. Last season, we were something of a surprise package. Now our opponents are fully aware of the threat that Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts pose, and are prepared to deal with them.
Tony Mowbray’s response has been a change of tactics, moving away from taking teams on, on the counter, to keeping possession and breaking them down by other means. The debate over Danny Batth has raged over several weeks but it is clear that the skill set that Mowbray wants from his centre halves is one that Batth does not possess.
In a back four of Hume, Ballard, O’Nien and Cirkin, all of them are capable of stepping into midfield, and the remaining three are all capable of fitting into a back three formation.
Ahead of them, Dan Neil and Pierre Ekwah have rotated the six and eight role. Last season, it was predictable that Neil would sit while Ekwah advanced. In the games so far this season, their roles have become much more interchangeable and, therefore, unpredictable to the opposition.
It was Dan Neil who popped up on the right side of the attack to head the ball back for Jobe to claim his first goal in a Sunderland shirt. In the second half, Neil appeared in the box on the left wing.
Ekwah, meanwhile, showed impressive discipline, patrolling in front of the back 3 or 4. Hume or Cirkin were often found ahead of him.
What is clear is that Tony Mowbray is trying to progress this team from the counter attacking, pressing force that propelled us to the playoffs last season, to a team with a high defensive line that controls games and imposes itself on the opposition.
As evidenced by Jobe’s second goal on Saturday, we now pose a threat through the middle of the pitch. Doing so presents a dilemma for our opponents - if they double up on Clarke or Roberts on the wings, we have the weaponry to take advantage in the centre. Dack’s career statistics indicate that he is a far greater goal threat than Pritchard, and who knows what Jobe is capable of. Well, we now know that the lad certainly knows where the goal is.
It is obvious that Mowbray will not be relying on the tactics that caught out so many teams last season. With Clarke and Roberts, we will still carry a big threat down both wings. But a more fluid defence and midfield will create more through the middle of the park. That will draw defenders inside, and open up space for Roberts and Clarke to exploit.
Whatever other teams learned about us last season, Tony Mowbray is seeking to provide them with a very different challenge this season. There is far more to our coach than Jaffa Cakes and Revels.
Mrs KLD may just have to wait a little while longer for the club to dispose of saleable assets to fund her pension payday.