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Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light

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Editorial: Sunderland pick up where they left off in the League Cup and the Championship

There’s the small matter of our cup exit, a rumour mill going into overdrive and evidence we’ve brought a lot with us into the current season from last time around - the good and the bad.

Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

League Cup campaign done for another year...

We might have gone out in the first round of the League Cup to League Two opposition, but in the grand scheme of things, it means virtually nothing.

We’ve gone out at this stage of the competition four times in the past six years after last night’s exit, which also makes it two successive years - so nothing new there.

Worst case is that we’ve missed out on an additional game or two where some of the younger lads might have had an opportunity to get more minutes on the pitch, frustrating maybe - but in my book it’s one notch higher than a pre-season friendly.

There were a couple of things worth highlighting maybe - Chris Rigg is knocking on the manager’s door to be involved more in the league as he was one of the few who took advantage of the fact that we lost the opening game and places might be up for grabs.

Alex Pritchard was another, where early signs of linking up well with Bradley Dack might give Mowbray food for thought - Saturday’s starting XI will be interesting to see.

The biggest disappointment was possibly that there weren’t more who really took the opportunity to force their way into the managers thinking ahead of our trip to Preston at the weekend.

But I for one won’t miss the next couple of rounds during midweeks where bizarrely there is no avenue to watch the game on the box - which is a little bit ridiculous.

Sunderland v Crewe Alexandra - Carabao Cup - First Round - Stadium of Light
The sun sets on another League Cup campaign for Sunderland...
Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

The rumour mill...

Timing is everything, and after an opening day defeat, an early exit from the League Cup to League Two opposition and only a few weeks until the transfer window closes, there were comments on Total Sport suggesting that all is apparently not as rosy as it may appear in the Sunderland garden.

It was reported that Tony Mowbray was/is unhappy at stories linking us with bringing in an Italian coach to replace him at the beginning of the summer - and that it was possible that this unhappiness is rolling on still today.

Just the mere hint that this was true combined with Mowbray taking longer than usual to attend the post-match press conference, resulted in hyperbolic nonsense being spread on the standard nonsense generating platforms.

I’ve got no issue with the club being on the look out for who might be next in line to become our next coach and would hope they have a shortlist in a drawer somewhere, because in football you just never know.

I would just hope that they did things in the right way, which I guess is where any potential grievance may stem from. One thing is for sure though, now that it is out in the public domain it needs to be dealt with one way or another.

It can’t be allowed to fester because the noise from the outside demanding answers will very quickly become a distraction, and there are the small matters of a transfer window to complete and points to get on the board to focus on.

Confirm it’s nonsense or sort it out please gentlemen - we have bigger fish to fry.

Sunderland v Crewe Alexandra - Carabao Cup First Round
Tony Mowbray channeling his inner Bielsa during our League Cup exit... but nobody could find a bucket.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The good bits from Sunday...

Focusing on Sunday’s defeat to Ipswich, it might have only been one game to go off, but there was evidence there to suggest that we are carrying over a lot of what was so good about last season - as well as some of the habits that weren’t so good.

If we try and approach it in chronological order based on the 90 minutes from Sunday, it’s easy enough to say that the first half an hour or so of the game was a microcosm of so much of our first season back in the Championship.

In some ways Ipswich Town didn’t know what hit them and we were dominating the game completely. At the back, Ballard was being physical and bullying their forwards and O’Nien was zipping balls into Jobe in the pockets and Clarke out wide while dictating the tempo.

In midfield, Ekwah was everywhere and through a mix of carrying the ball and his range of passing was getting us up the pitch quickly and Neil alongside him was controlling the middle of the park in his usual understated way.

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

Jobe was finding space in ways that belied his age and his touch and assurance on the ball also looked that of a player that wasn’t just turning 18-years-old next month, and hasn’t yet played 30 senior games.

Clarke and Roberts began the game in their usual busy fashion, where they looked positive and put the visitors constantly on the back foot. Then there was Hemir, who began the game looking hungry for the ball, which he showed by closing down defenders and winning the ball back on a couple of occasions in the early stages.

The first half an hour or so was close to perfection - except we didn’t create anything in terms of clear cut chances - which admittedly is a fundamental.

Sunderland would have dominated any club in the Championship playing like we did in the opening period and maybe some sides from the bottom half of the Premier League - but we wouldn’t have scored against any of them.

Now this isn’t something new for this young Sunderland side, especially at the Stadium of Light. The final three home games of last season before the play-offs were perfect examples where, although we took five points from nine, they were a bit of a slog and we found clear-cut goalscoring opportunities hard to come by.

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

The not so good bits from Sunday...

On these occasions it usually took a moment of magic from, in most cases, Clarke, Amad and Roberts to get us going in games and a lot of this was down to the fact we played out most of last season without a natural focal point up top.

But on Sunday we had one, and it seemed as if we hadn’t realised that this was the case.

Most of our patterns of play looked as they did last season when we setup with a false-nine, but we now have two players who stand above six-feet tall who were waiting for a ball into the box.

Not for a second am I suggesting that should be our only pattern of play, but it gives us an extra dimension that we lacked last year that we didn’t seem to want to use on Sunday.

There are calls for more bodies to be added to the squad in that area of the pitch - which I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with - but at the same time if there is no supply to the striker, it won’t make a difference who we have up top.

But, it is only one game, and new players with different attributes always take time to settle with the team needing time to learn what they’re about also.

Looking at the opposition who had all played so well together last season for the Tractor Boys, it was maybe no coincidence that despite our dominance, they created the better openings in the first half.

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

Days like these...

Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts are up there amongst the most talented footballers in this division and we learnt last season that with players of their talent there is a trade-off, which requires an acceptance that they are just as likely to produce something brilliant as they are to lose possession.

We know we need to wait for that moment of brilliance to come and that can often take the majority of the game, where either player can look visibly frustrated, but then it happens. And when it does happen we more often than not go on to win a game fairly comfortably.

Sunday was one of those days where it just didn’t happen. That’s football, and we wouldn’t be surprised at all if they tore Preston up at the weekend and both ended up on the scoresheet. But at the same time, they will also need to get back into the habit of playing with the option of a target to hit in the middle.

Also in that period of dominance, and then subsequently throughout the game, our set-pieces were woeful. We might as well have just knocked them out for a goal kick and regrouped for how effective they were.

The away side inevitably grew into the game and with it saw moments of us being sloppy in possession - a Dan Neil error led to Hume’s first booking just after the half hour and Patrick Roberts repeated the error on the stroke of half time which eventually led to us going behind and then another similar moment led to the second goal.

Another aspect of the 2022-23 season, especially on home soil, that we’d have preferred we left behind us ahead of kicking-off the current season.

Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet Championship
Dan Neil scores Sunderland first goal of the 2023-24 season to pull one back against Ipswich Town
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Another feature to come under scrutiny in the past is the choice of substitutions from Tony Mowbray during games and once again questions were raised after the final whistle.

A gut feeling is that because Ipswich went two-up only seven minutes after the break and then a couple of minutes later hit the bar from range - which could have easily resulted in a penalty for the away side - after Hume had lost possession cheaply in a dangerous area, Mowbray concluded that changes had to made immediately, and subsequently they were potentially driven by panic.

There was an option there to change things up to try and get a better supply into Hemir rather than replace him - but having said that, if their keeper doesn’t stick a leg out and stop Dan Neil’s shot in injury-time we’d be lauding the manager’s changes after coming back from two-down to claim a point - fine margins.

So, it’s only one league game, but on the first showing it appears we’re looking like we’re set for a season ahead of us that will be similar to the last one - which is not necessarily a bad thing - but if we can bottle that opening half an hour and add some clinical play in the final third, it could be some season ahead.


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