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Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet Championship

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Fan Letters: “A bad start, but it’s not entirely negative for Sunderland”

Plenty of thoughts and observations about Sunderland’s first league game of 2023/2024 are in the RR mailbox today! Got something to say? Email us:

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

Dear Roker Report,

First and foremost, the digital season ticket wasn’t an issue for me.

Although I was slightly concerned at how long the queue was to get into the stadium, thankfully it all worked out fine.

I also took the liberty of asking the gentleman a few years my senior who has season tickets next to me how he managed and he said he didn’t have any issues either, which was good to hear!

To the football, I agree with all that’s been said regarding to the start we made and how it looked like we wanted to make a statement of intent but alas, it wasn’t meant to be come the final whistle.

However, I thought one of the standout performances was from Pierre Ekwah.

I remember discussing with the aforementioned gentleman that he dominated the midfield and at times, the Ipswich players bottled going into tackles with him as he went in at full throttle. Dan Neil, in contrast, wouldn’t go in as hard as Ekwah would.

Secondly, Patrick Roberts looked as brilliant as ever on the ball and when beating his man, but it was just too far from the box.

I think Sunday’s game was a case of rustiness more than anything and although I’m disappointed at the result, I’ve seen enough from the team to know that we have every chance of being there or thereabouts when it comes to promotion this season!


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

I agree that although Sunday’s result was disappointing, the performances of certain players did offer encouragement. The two goals we conceded were extremely sloppy, but there’s nothing there that can’t be fixed with some hard work and greater composure in key moments.

Ekwah continues to go from strength to strength, and he’s rapidly becoming one of the most important players in our squad.

We’ve been crying out for some physicality in the middle of the park for years, and Ekwah provides it, along with plenty of skill. He’s looking like a real gem of a signing and hopefully he continues to improve.

Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

For years, it’s felt as though the number of injuries we have exceeds that of other clubs.

Is it bad luck? Perhaps, but we’re even having difficulty with new players in their first training session, such as Eliezer Mayenda.

Is there an exercise or routine that we adopt that overstrains the players in some way? It’s a mystery!

A scientist would set up a controlled experiment with groups of players doing slightly different routines and observing the results via the usual health and fitness checks with appropriate statistical analysis.

Is our monitoring sufficiently supervised and am I the only person who thinks this can’t always be down to bad luck?

For instance, we could never keep Nathan Broadhead fit for extended periods, but at Ipswich, he’s almost always available and can last the whole game.

Can someone convince me that it’s just very bad luck and that I’m out of order to even think such thing?

Whatever the truth, it’s very frustrating and most perplexing, but my loyalty and trust in the club remains solid.

Arthur Gray

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

Sunderland’s seemingly eternal injury crisis is definitely one of the strangest issues of recent years, and the truth is that only the sports science department really know what’s going on and what the root causes might be.

I suppose the risk of playing so many young footballers is that they’re not yet fully developed and therefore more prone to injuries, but others, such as Jack Clarke, seem to be physically durable and less susceptible to being hurt.

Hopefully this season is the time when we don’t fall victim to the curse as regularly, but I won’t hold my breath!

Fulham v Sunderland: Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

On Sunday afternoon, we travelled up for the first home game of the season and to be honest, the omens weren’t good.

I couldn’t find my Dan Neil 2022/2023 home shirt, so I resorted to an old favourite - the 2008/2009 BoyleSports navy and royal blue away shirt.

After the game, we drove back to York and I watched the game on Sky Sports, so my observations are based on watching the game live and rewatching it on TV.

Our play in the first half was, for the most part, encouraging.

Tony Mowbray has clearly tried to move the team up the pitch, and Dan Neil and Pierre Ekwah were both given a license to go forward.

This made our midfield less predictable as they rotated the role of holding midfielder, with Neil often found in more advanced positions and Ekwah proving that he has the discipline to adapt to a more defensive role when required.

I love players like Danny Batth - wholehearted, committed, a good old-fashioned brick wall, but it’s obvious that Mowbray wants centre halves who can carry and distribute the ball, which isn’t one of Batth’s main strengths.

Every player in the back four needs to be capable of moving into midfield, leaving the others to play three at the back when we have possession.

Patrick Roberts was more isolated without Amad, but that added an element of unpredictability to our side. Attacking through the centre and through Jack Clarke on the left wing limited the damage done by the loss of Amad.

Jobe Bellingham showed signs of being a prodigious talent for a seventeen-year-old, and the fact that he’s being introduced as ‘Jobe’ is a clear indication that he has no intention of living off his family name.

Some of his touches were exceptional, and the awareness that produced the stepover that released Clarke in the first half is something that can’t be coached. He’s far from the finished product but he looked at home in a team that seeks to play progressive football.

Hemir is also just a boy but he’s shown enough striker’s instincts in pre-season to warrant an extended opportunity.

The response of the team to going 2-0 down and playing with ten men should tell everyone all they need to know about the mindset of this group of players, but the social media meltdown that accompanied the result was something to behold.

It mirrored some comments I heard in the stadium:

‘KLD is only here to pocket the money’- just remind which key players we’ve sold?

‘They won’t spend more than a million’- I wonder what the actual costs are for the deals that brought us Clarke, Dan Ballard, Bellingham and Hemir.

The club may keep such things quiet but players like that don’t come cheap, however you buy them.

The ‘Dan Neil isn’t good enough’ society were also in full voice.

I won’t dwell on the fact that he scored or that for a stray keeper’s leg, he would’ve equalised, but I watched the full match back and I can’t remember a bad pass from the lad, and he certainly added a threat up front too.

This was the first game of the season.

It won’t define our season but now might be a good time to reflect that twelve months ago, we were embarking on our first season back in the Championship under Alex Neil. That didn’t last long, and we’d yet to be introduced to the ‘teens in jeans’.

It’s a long season.

Mike Stubbs

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

I think you’ve summed up Sunday’s game perfectly.

Although the result wasn’t what we would’ve wanted, there were some promising individual performances, and with the likes of Bellingham and Hemir, it’s important that we show patience and allow them to develop.

They’ll go through ups and downs in form but they're clearly talented, and they deserve time to improve.

Regarding the grumblings about the ownership, it’s very much a repeat of what we’ve heard for a long time, and I don’t think it reflects the mood of the wider fanbase, either.

What I would say is, if people aren’t happy with Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, who is the ‘Mr X’ with deep pockets and a blank chequebook who’s going to buy the club and spend like there’s no tomorrow?

It’s unlikely that such a potential owner exists, and you can’t simply keep changing the owner of a club just because he’s not spending freely or you don’t like the idea of financial sustainability.

That’s exactly what Sunderland AFC doesn’t need at this moment.

Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

This is in reply to TG about the word ‘soccer’.

It’s actually a word that was used commonly in England until fairly recently. I know this because fifteen years ago, I completed my history dissertation on the changes in football in the 1950s.

This involved reading a lot of newspaper reports and books written at the time, and the word ‘soccer’ was prevelant.

Here’s one example that readers might know: a certain Len Shackleton released his autobiography in 1956. Its title? ‘The Clown Prince of Soccer’.

Language evolves and soccer has dropped out of common usage in this country but not in others, so can we please stop calling its use an ‘Americanisation’?

To do so is simply a misuse of history.

Kind regards,

Paul McGwinn

Len Shackleton Photo by Monty Fresco Jnr/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images


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