Best for us Ba none
He has been on the receiving end of an awfully large amount of criticism in recent weeks. Some of it will be justified, some of it an unfair burden for a young developing footballer to have lumped on him.
Against Ipswich there were still clear raw elements to his game - a few incorrect decisions, however that seemed endemic to everyone at some point during the match.
I’d rather focus one thing he showed us last night, which was the evidence that we have no one quite like him with the ball at their feet.
When in full flow and without constraint, he deserved as much praise as criticism he has previously received and there is something about him that we simply need to nourish, I’d go as far as to say that he possesses a little more technique and finesse to his beating of a defender, even when compared to Jack Clarke, whose skill lie in attacking a defender a little more directly.
With Roberts clearly not quite doing the business recently. He thoroughly deserves his place in the team, but seems to be an easy and friction-free option to bring off option when it comes to making substitutions - a decision that last night came back to haunt us.
I’m all for Ba getting a further extended run in the team and long may be continue to have the freedom to express himself on the ball!
If there ever was an example of the fine margins in football it would be the 25 minutes Adil Auchiche spent on the Portman Road pitch. The pressure was already on having been a direct replacement for arguably our best player on the night at 1-1 with a game to influence and win. Yet, as fate would cruelly have it, the golden opportunity at the critical time fell to his feet with goal gaping.
However, instead of a finish that even Harry Redknapp’s Sandra could’ve made, what we saw was a young player, undercooked, and lacking in confidence as he managed to miss the target altogether.
Just to twist the knife, not five minutes later with the ball innocuously going out for a throwing he gives un and no sooner have we got over the shock of not being a goal up we are a goal down.
In moments like this football is a cruel, cruel game and just highlights how you can always be just one phase of play away from a brilliant victory and all being well, or compounded despair and Beale criticism to tear apart.
You have to feel a certain degree of sympathy for Adil, but similarly the argument could (and maybe should) be made around whether he should have come on for Ba in the first place.
A player’s confidence and ultimately their Sunderland careers have ended on moments like that in the past, I hope Adil is given all the reassurances and pep-talks he needs for that not to be the case for another bright young Frenchman.
Now I know we are reflecting back on a game we have conceded two goals and lost but hear me out. One thing that really struck me last night was just how much more organised we look as a defence unit then in the last days of Tony Mowry - something that Michael Beale should be given credit for.
In recent months we have seen poor decision-making, poor positioning, and calamitous mistakes cost us numerous points but I saw none of that yesterday evening? I know... we’ve lost and conceded two goals, I believe both can be mitigated against as isolated incidents that nobody really could’ve foreseen however and sense an air of confidence and understanding back in that defensive line.
Sure those resolute in their anti-Beale rhetoric who refuse to give him a chance that will likely have not recognised it. They may well opt to ignore it in favour of criticising other aspects of the performance, but considering Ipswich are a team that have been holding off Southampton and Leeds to the automatic promotion places, I think we rarely looked like a team under too much pressure than we could handle.
Whilst we still appear goal, shy, we need to once again learn how to stop them going in at the other end, and at the very root of that is a confident and organised defence. If Beale can make that stick, and those who are responsible for finding a goal-scorer do their job, is there any reason we can’t maintain a good run in the second half of the season and maintain a play-off charge?
So we’re back at the stadium of light for three of the next four games, and it’s crucial that to get through those fixtures with the points, we desperately need the atmosphere to be good. Even if it’s not a happy place, let it be a supportive place. A free and easy environment to give the lads the footing to compete without anxiety.
It’s a run of fixtures that at the start of the season, might not have seemed quite so daunting. However, we are now facing a very good Hull, a largely improving Stoke, a Plymouth side who already have the beating of us this season and Middlesbrough who could be on the verge of a league cup final.
Don’t doubt that the quality is there in the squad, but there remain a few tiny (but crucial cogs missing that will need replacing for the Sunderland machine to be in full working order once again.
So what return would keep us content when we look forward to the next four fixtures?