Michael Beale feels the heat after another defeat
On a bitterly cold evening at the Stadium of Light, only one thing was guaranteed to warm the hearts and lift the spirits of the hardy masses who turned out to support the Lads, and that was an improved performance and a victory.
Sadly, we got neither, and after the FA Cup surrender to Newcastle and last Saturday’s loss at Portman Road, it already feels as though Michael Beale is under immense pressure- something that manifested itself in the shape of countless verbal grenades being launched in his direction as the game petered out to its inevitable conclusion.
Sunderland’s performance on Friday night was abysmal.
It was bereft of any real spark, aggression, tempo, creativity or variation to our play, and given the players’ body language and general demeanour, you have to question whether they’re fully plugged into whatever Beale is trying to implement, or if they’re as unconvinced by him as many fans seem to be.
On this evidence, it feels like it’s the latter, and to say that patience is already wearing thin with the former Rangers boss isn’t an overstatement. Those on the blue side of Glasgow warned us that Beale was often guilty of talking a better game than his teams played, and so far, there’s been little evidence to suggest otherwise.
Jack Clarke’s magic doesn’t yield results
It was the winger’s brilliant solo goal that secured the victory when we made the Boxing Day trip to Humberside, and he also opened the scoring last weekend with a cracking strike against Ipswich, but this was a frustrating night for the wide man.
There was no shortage of effort and he drew plenty of fouls with quick turns and fleetness of foot (a part of his game that’s improved no end), but his end product was lacking and he seldom took on his man and got to the byline to whip crosses into the box.
We’re heavily reliant on Clarke at the best of times, so when he’s even slightly off his game, as was the case here, it makes a tricky task even harder. Let’s hope that he remains fully focused on Sunderland as the remainder of the transfer window unfolds.
Pierre Ekwah plays it safe... too safe
It’s never a pleasant experience to watch a footballer whose confidence is visibly fragile, and quite what the root cause of it remains a mystery, but something is badly amiss with Ekwah at this moment in time.
Against Hull, he played within himself, picking easy and safe passes for what felt like the majority of the game, and he was often ponderous in possession and slow to read any signs of danger.
Some heavy touches didn't help, and this was more worrying proof that all isn’t well with the popular midfielder. Indeed, that dynamic and exciting performance against Southampton currently feels a long way away.
Of course, you’d hope that Beale can somehow begin to rebuild his confidence and help him to slowly turn things around, but Ekwah is another player who doesn’t seem to be responding brilliantly to whatever tactical approach he’s implementing, and it’s quite sad to see someone who could be a real presence drifting through games and seemingly afraid to get involved to a greater extent.
Square pegs in round holes hinder Sunderland
For all of the talent within our ranks, of which there’s a lot, some flaws are being brutally exposed at this moment in time, and last night’s game was another example.
Jenson Seelt isn’t a right back, Alex Pritchard is most certainly not a winger, and Jobe, for all of his talent and potential, isn’t suited to the number ten position, and he’s also running on fumes at the moment.
For someone of Michael Beale’s supposed ability as a coach, you’d think that these issues would be headed off at the pass and players positioned where they can make the biggest impact, but against Hull, we persisted with a policy of shoehorning certain lads into the team and seemingly hoping that something would come of it.
Beale is currently being afforded plenty of time with the lads on the training ground, so presumably he’s assessing their strengths and best attributes.
It makes his current team selections all the more baffling, and after a good performance last time out, Abdoullah Ba can rightly feel hacked off at being dropped in the latest installment of ‘Sunderland selection bingo’.
It’s having a hugely damaging effect on the team, and it can’t be doing much for the players’ confidence, either.