A patchy performance and a deserved defeat
This was a genuinely bizarre game to watch, and the ebb and flow of the fixture was as fascinating as it was peculiar.
For the first twenty minutes, backed by a fervent opening-day home crowd and doubtless eager to make a positive impression against the newly-promoted visitors, we played superbly, albeit without making a breakthrough.
There was plenty of positive intent, with Patrick Roberts and Jobe seeking to get on the ball and create openings and Pierre Ekwah keeping things solid in the middle. Early doors, we looked as though we were right at it and ready to send out a statement on the opening day.
However, following a freakish goal scored by, of all people, Nathan Broadhead, the wind dropped out of our sails and when George Hirst cashed in on some slack defending to make it 0-2 early in the second half, we lost our shape, composure, and above all, our attacking impetus.
The majority of the second half was a grind, with very little to write home about, and it wasn’t until the referee signalled for thirteen minutes of injury time (surely a Stadium of Light first) that we really started to show some threat. Dan Neil’s goal at least prevented us from being shut out completely, but that was cold comfort, in truth.
Too many of our players were off their game yesterday. Perhaps it was a case of being caught cold by a lively opponent, or maybe they just couldn’t find their rhythm, but this wasn’t the kind of performance that the 40,000+ crowd would’ve been seeking.
Jack Clarke had a frustrating afternoon, Luke O’Nien found the going tough in defence, and Trai Hume’s red card summed it up.
Our home form last season was a real weakness, and it’s imperative that the bad habits of 2022/2023 don’t creep back in. Let’s hope that we can start to stamp them out, starting tomorrow night in what should be an easier fixture against Crewe.
A challenging afternoon for Hemir
The Portuguese striker has enjoyed a promising pre-season, with four goals and some encouraging performances that hinted at a real talent.
However, this wasn’t the start to the league campaign that he would’ve wanted, and if anything, he’ll hopefully have gotten a real insight into what’s needed to make an impression in this league.
Hemir is a big, strong and physical striker, the kind we’ve lacked since Ross Stewart’s second serious injury, and his attributes ought to be well-suited to this division and the style of play that we’ve so often relied on.
However, the young striker found it tough on Sunday.
He was often isolated upfront, and at times he seemed a little bit timid and unsure as to how best to impact the game. I would’ve loved to have seen him be more dominant and use that physicality to really unsettle the away defence, but it didn’t quite happen.
Yes, the supply line wasn’t plentiful and there were times when we could’ve brought him into the game to greater effect, but the Championship can be a harsh teacher and this was a huge step up in class from the games he impacted during pre-season.
Perhaps it was simply the magnitude of the occasion or the pressure of being our only fit out-and-out striker, but there’s clearly a lot more to come from the former Benfica forward, and hopefully the addition of some attacking reinforcements in the coming weeks should help to ease the burden on his young and inexperienced shoulders.
Our number seven catches the eye on his competitive debut
After opting to be known simply as ‘Jobe’ when the 2023/2024 squad numbers were released on Friday, the younger Bellingham brother was given a start on Sunday, in what felt like an eye-catching statement of intent from Tony Mowbray.
Overall, and despite what could easily have been a daunting assignment, the former Birmingham youngster did just fine. More experienced players than Jobe have wilted under the pressure of a packed Stadium of Light, but he didn’t, and it was to his credit.
He played with his head up, was always looking to make things happen from the number ten position, and had it not been for a snatched effort in the first half that sailed over the bar, his Stadium of Light bow would’ve ended with a deserved goal.
On our live Friday night Twitter podcast, there seemed to be a consensus that Mowbray would opt for the experience and composure of Alex Pritchard, but he clearly felt that this was an occasion in which the seventeen-year-old could showcase his talent, and it certainly didn’t go unnoticed.
There’s plenty of debate about his best position and how his skills can be utilised most effectively as part of our system, but this was a promising first competitive run out for Bellingham and there are lots be excited about.
Reinforcements are needed in key areas
In terms of what we learned from this game, there was nothing revelatory and we didn’t get any real eye-openers, either.
The squad isn’t a million miles away from being competitive, and with the transfer window still in full swing, there’s time to recruit the players who could give us the little bit extra that we need.
A solid and rugged central midfielder would be a welcome addition, and with Isaac Lihadji gone and the windfall seemingly set to be reinvested, Mowbray’s reference to deals being worked in the attacking department on will hopefully bear fruit soon.
A speedy, prolific striker or two would be a worthwhile acquisition, and an experienced target man in the Ross Stewart mould could also be on the club’s shopping list. With Eliezer Mayenda not yet ready and Stewart still some way short of match fitness, this is a top priority- even without yesterday’s defeat.
At the back, with question marks hanging over Danny Batth’s future and Nectar Triantis still being phased in gradually, another strong, dominant and vocal central defender would be useful. Hopefully Batth’s services can be retained for another season, but if he is Blackburn-bound, it’s imperative that his experience is replaced as effectively as possible.
In addition, rumours of a deal being struck for PSG’s Colin Dagba are still swirling, and he would certainly be a classy addition to a defence that isn’t short of numbers, but can often lack composure when the pressure is cranked up.
Kristjaan Speakman’s Twitter notifications will doubtless be lighting up like a Christmas tree this week. Still, it feels unlikely that panic will set in on the recruitment front, even if the fans were less than happy on Sunday evening. Last summer, we used the transfer window to its absolute maximum, and it could be a similar story this time, too.