Hull City have been crippled with injuries as of late and rotated a full XI for their midweek FA Cup replay, Rosenior made two changes from the side that lost to Norwich in their last league outing, with Greg Doherty and Jason Eyenga-Lokilo coming in on their wing for the Tigers.
With high-profile midfielder Seri away on international duty and injuries to Delap, Connolly & Jaden Philogene, Hull were down to their bare bones and set up rather defensively in a 4-2-3-1.
Mick Beale also made two changes from the previous game at Ipswich, with Jenson Seelt coming in at right-back to replace the injured Aji Alese and Rusyn returning to the starting XI to replace Abdoullah Ba, despite the latter seemingly being one of the better players on the pitch down at Portman Road.
As we’d come to expect, Sunderland set up in their usual 4-1-4-1 formation with Pritchard tucking in whilst in possession of the ball to form an asymmetrical shape in possession.
Just like many other fans, I love a Friday-Night game, there’s something profoundly exciting about finishing work on a Friday, having a pre-match pint with friends, and heading to the match knowing you could be cruising into the weekend in a great mood before it’s even begun.
Friday, however, was not one of those nights. I adore watching football but by the hour mark on Friday it felt more like a chore.
The passing was slow, shape was wrong, the body language was poor and most worryingly Sunderland looked totally devoid of any creative spark.
There’s no hiding away from the fact that the team shape under Beale is becoming an increasing concern amongst all fans now and it needs addressing.
Following Ba’s somewhat composed display at Ipswich on the right flank last week, I was shocked to see him omitted from the team sheet.
Despite not being an orthodox right-winger, he held width for Sunderland and created a natural passing lane on numerous occasions so to see him dropped left me puzzled.
Looking at the average position map seen above, it is painful viewing seeing Alex Pritchard appearing on top of Jobe and Jenson Seelt the furthest player wide for Sunderland in their possession phases of play.
The lack of natural width is causing slow, stagnant, and predictable patterns of play emerging from Sunderland. In this game Hull were quite happy to allow Pritchard to roam, knowing his aim every time was simply to transition the ball over to Clarke and hope he could attack into a sea of orange shirts.
Similarly to the game against Rotherham, Beale opted to play narrow to no-avail, fans we were warned in advance of his preference for a narrow system however by willingly starting Jack Clarke you have to compromise and admit that playing wide is a necessary evil to create a balanced shape and formation.
Hull came into this game with a clear plan, sit deep, defend resolutely against waves of Sunderland attacks, and ultimately play it out for the draw.
Sunderland however seemed to also set-up this way under Beale, creating a slow tempo, passive interchanges of play and most frighteningly a total lack of creativity.
With Fabio Carvalho acting as the lone frontman for Hull, from the off there was no desire to attack the Sunderland back line, yet Beale opted to keep Seelt in a defensive position whilst in possession or had players just bypass him entirely.
As Sunderland’s only natural width on the right, Seelt only received 47 touches of the ball, the second least by any outfield player only beaten by Rusyn whom only managed 11 touches.
11 touches of the ball at home as a striker is simply not good enough and even less than what Burstow was managing under Mowbray.
Balls into Rusyn were either inaccurate or overplayed, leaving the striker with little to no service and due to Pritchard’s decision to drift infield meant Rusyn was often forced to cover him on the right wing making him even less involved in play.
Whether fans read much into body language or not, it’s clear as day that players haven’t bought into Beale’s system of coaching and despite multiple weeks on the training pitch and several recorded interviews documenting his ambition to make Sunderland a more defensively solid side, he’s done so at the total expense of any attacking output the team previously offered.
Sunderland recorded 15 shots in this game compared to Hull’s two, both of Hull’s shots came inside the box (one resulting in a goal) compared to Sunderland’s five inside the box and ten from outside.
Sunderland have gone from a side that work the ball into the box to one that takes speculative shots from distance due to a lack of other available opportunities and it’s painful viewing.
Beale by Numbers
Fans may be aware of the graphic circulating on social media regarding the underlying data surrounding the appointment of Beale and how this all looks for Sunderland.
The graph below highlights two key areas for Sunderland, the green line highlights Sunderland’s xG stats per game this season (xG is the average number of goals you’d expect to score given the type and quality of chances created by players.)
Conversely, the pink line indicates Sunderland’s xG for goals conceded per game (again xG against highlights the number of goals you’d expect to concede from the frequency and quality of chances faced per game).
Following Mowbray’s departure, it was clear we were a possession-based side that created a high volume of chances, they just weren’t being taken and we were doing well to limit the quality of opposition chances in games.
It makes grim viewing to see that since Beale’s introduction (Purple Line) we’ve not only regressed in the quality of chances created but there’s also been a clear uptake in the quality of chances being given to opposition in games.
There’s no easy way to say that things are not looking good for Sunderland right now, Beale has managed to suck the life out of one of the most naturally talented sides in the division and it shows.
I do however ask fans to refrain from calling for Beale’s head as no ownership structure would willingly sack a manager less than 10 games into their tenure.
Things may well get worse, but with a huge game coming up against Stoke at the weekend, it’s now more about getting behind the players than it is Beale.
With a bunch of young adults on the pitch, they need the support from fans more than ever. No matter who is standing on the touchline on Saturday, the players and the club are far more important than the man in the technical area.