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Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Are midfield issues hindering Sunderland’s strikers?

Much has been made of the struggles of our centre forwards this season, but as Mark Roberts writes, could the root cause of the problem lie elsewhere?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The Don Goodman interview from nearly a fortnight ago hasn’t left me, but it’s niggled at me ever since.

Even though a game has passed against a small club in Yorkshire in that time, it’s plagued me a bit more and if you haven’t read it, the crux of the interview is that Nazariy Rusyn should apparently be making more runs and scoring more goals.

Sunderland v Newcastle United - Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

The coaching staff should also be coaching better, and Rusyn should be forcibly communicating with Jack Clarke, Abdoullah Ba and Dan Neil to play through balls, although you can replace Rusyn with Mason Burstow and to a certain extent Luis Hemir, in my opinion.

So, is Goodman right?

Before I get to that, I thought I’d do a quick refresher on Goodman via YouTube in order to check his credibility and scoring prowess!

Replacing Marco Gabbiadini was never going to be easy, but Goodman generally did alright and we even sold him for a profit.

He scored some good goals and he made runs in behind the defenders. His first three seasons were fairly fruitful, scoring thirty seven times and even with a poor return of just three in his final season, he still managed a record of one goal in three during his Sunderland career.

Soccer - Barclay’s League Division Two - Tranmere Rovers v Sunderland Photo by Neal Simpson/EMPICS via Getty Images

I think what started me off was watching Sunday’s game, and particularly Sam Greenwood.

This was for a variety of reasons, from his earnest interview before the game and nailing his colours to the Middlesborough mast whilst showing a smidgeon of contempt for his boyhood club.

I’m trying not to hold this against him, nor his celebration at the Stadium of Light, nor the fact that his Sunderland-supporting family were in the home end, as he was sold off in the great Stewart Donald fire sale.

It could be the fact that he’s playing to resurrect his career after being moved on by Arsenal and Leeds. He has a buy-out option at the end of the loan deal at Middlesbrough and he seemed to have a point to prove by being at his fourth club at the age of twenty two.

Greenwood had been in the youth setup since he was six years old.

He was prolific in front of goal and went on to play for England U18s, so it felt like he was in the right place at Sunderland.

Although he didn’t score on Sunday, he had four chances and probably should’ve done better. He was full of energy, he made the runs and he was often fed. He also stretched the game and made space.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

He constantly played on the shoulder of Dan Ballard and to be honest, Ballard had a bit of an uncomfortable time.

Greenwood did almost everything that Burstow didn’t and although the appearance of Rusyn for Burstow got most of the attention for changing the game, it could’ve easily been the injury and subsequent withdrawal of Greenwood.

What happened to Burstow?

How many times did he touch the ball? When did Ba or Clarke cross it to him or pull it back? Did Neil slide in a through ball for him to chase or loft a ball for him to challenge?

It’s easy to blame Burstow but we still don’t really play like we have a number nine. Burstow didn’t get one chance in the game whereas Rusyn had two shots, but didn’t touch the ball in the opposition box.

It’s all fine and dandy for everyone to call for Rusyn to start but it would be a very different feeling if Tom Glover had done a better job of stopping a fairly routine shot.

Is two shots from outside the box over ninety minutes from our central strikers good enough?

For me, Goodman is spot on. If you’re not getting the ball as a centre forward, it’s more than frustrating, but do something about it.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Generally, the most gifted footballers who play up front demonstrate control, speed, shooting ability, awareness, and creativity. If you’re that talented, demand the ball. Show for it, come deep at times, drag out a defender, stretch the game, do something.

The coaching staff should be doing better, or else what was the point of firing Tony Mowbray and hiring Michael Beale?

If Rusyn, Hemir or Burstow are to get anywhere near a one in three goal return, we need a lot more from them but we also need a lot more from the midfield.

Work rate and commitment are essential, but you need someone to supply you; to spot the run and make the pass.

Not everything has to go wide, and Clarke, Ba, Neil, and Ekwah can change the game, but they can do better. Indeed, they have to do better if we’re to challenge for the playoffs. That might sound harsh on Clarke, but he could be the best in the league in his position.

Sunderland isn’t an easy place to play when you can’t score goals, but get behind all the lads, as there has to be a big scoreline coming…fingers crossed.

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