Are we really content with 4-4-1-1?

Steve Bruce swore until blue in the face that he was right not to replace Darren Bent in January.

Salut! Sunderland was equally adamant that Bent should not have been allowed to go anywhere without a replacement – even a stopgap one – lined up. We allowed for the possibility that what Bruce took to calling a “calculated gamble” was not his choice, but thrust upon him by an owner thrilled to bits with the business aspect of Bent’s sale to Villa.

If he really was content to muddle through with one fit first-team striker, pinning hopes on the returns in due course of Danny Welbeck and Fraizer Campbell, then that stands, in my humble view, as his biggest error of the season.

We went from being top six to enduring the real if mild risk of becoming bottom three; we finished in the top 10 thanks – yes – to some decent back-end-of-season wins but mainly, perhaps, to the vagaries of an extraordinarily tight cluster from eighth downwards.

There is no desire to get the new season off on a critical note three weeks before it begins. We have been warm in our praise of Bruce’s acquisitions. We are guardedly excited about the coming season.

But it would be a lie to say we are convinced our shopping should be over. And good a player as Charles N’Zogbia may be – and such a self-effacing lad too! – the need still seems to be up front.

Asamoah Gyan had some terrific moments last season and is on the brink of becoming a seriously good Premier League striker. But we have already been warned not to expect instant magic from either Connor Wickham or Ji Dong-won, wonderful prospects maybe but young and untried at the highest level. And that leaves no one. We have no guarantees on Campbell’s return and, therefore, no second striker with significant Premier experience.

Bruce, interviewed by the Hartlepool Mail. says he is happy with a 4-4-1-1 formation in any case, especially with Stéphane Sessegnon shaping up well, slotted behind a lone striker, in pre-season:

“If you’re playing against good players, you leave yourself open at the back by playing 4-4-2. There’s not many teams now, who play two out-and-out strikers. One’s always off the main striker in the midfield area.

It suits Sess and it suits the team and I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen of him. There’s other players who can play in that position, plus there’s the two boys who’ve just come in and Asamoah as well.”

We’ll see. Bruce insists it would work even if Sess were unavailable, since one or more of the midfield recruits – choose from Gardner, Larsson or Vaughan – could also assume the role. But what if Gyan is also out, and neither Ji Dong-won nor Wickham is yet quite ready to take his place?

Tell me I am wrong if you disagree. But I’d cheerfully sacrifice N’Zogbia in favour of a proper, seasoned striker. It could be someone on his final payday, though not Heskey please. Others will have ideas on possible candidates.

It may not happen, but I happen to believe Steve Bruce, in his heart, agrees. Why else would he have seemed so keen to welcome the return of Welbeck on almost any basis?

Monsieur Salut

18 thoughts on “Are we really content with 4-4-1-1?”

  1. We need a proven goalscorer,or we will struggle cause theres bound to be injuries along the way,and the new forwards need time to get used to the big league .We also need a left winger and possibly a left back.

  2. “Steed has promised to chip in too! :-)” said Malcolm.

    I’m sure we’ll all be sleeping more easily in our beds at night in knowing that.

  3. I’ll go along with Eric on this one. I suspect there is much going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about within the parameters that ES has given SNQ regarding wage structures etc. We have 4 defenders who are unlikely ever to feature for the 1st choice XI all commanding Premiership salaries. Even if we offload them I should think that the club will have to part fund their wages should any other club agree to take them. I suspect that SAFC is paying at least half of Riveros’s income whilst he is on loan.

    The club has shown through the Darren Gibson negotiations that it won’t pay over the odds. It is probable that SB is on the limit of his budget – salary wise – hence his latest murmerings about more loan players – no fee, subsidised wages!

    The reality is that we can’t expect the club to go out and sign players purely on footballing needs, even though as fans that is what we would like them to do. I have confidence that the board and the management share the view that the strike force needs strengthening. The signing of Westwood I believe, is not just for extra competition in the goalkeeping department, but also because it will allow the club to cash in on Craig Gordon before he reaches the end of his contract.

    We may seem lighter in the striker department than we were before B£nt’s departure but in Gardner, Sessegnon, Larsson and Richardson we have players who will hopefully contribute from midfield. Oh and Steed has promised to chip in too! 🙂

  4. No Malcolm. I take your point, but there ought to be no panic at al. Bent made rumblings about getting away almost 12 months ago and left in Jan. Jones was allowed to leave despite that fact and Bent wasn’t replaced in Jan or since. Dong may be considered a replacement for the departed Welbeck and Wickham’s arrival. while welcome can not be considered a replacement for either Bent or Jones. Does anyone really think that our forward line looks stronger than 12 months ago despite the presence of Gyan? They need cerifying if they do as we are going into the new season still missing two proven goalscorers and not the ONE that people keep talking about. I am not panning Bruce for signing the likes of Done and Wickham; far from it as I expect he will be intent on bringing at least one striker in (preferably two), but if he fails to do this then it’s suicidal. When Jones went I wasn’t unhappy, but this was on the premise of someone better coming in. I didn’t expect it to be followed with the departure of Bent and the arrival of two players completely untested at this level.

    If it does turn into a panic it will be because someone has been dragging their feet in addressing the problem when it’s been crying out as a problem for more than long enough. We were goal shy last season and look weaker in strikers than we did a year ago.

  5. I take your point Jeremy. Marcus Stewart did score 31 goals for us in three seasons but mainly in the Championship (or Division 2 as I’d rather call it.) Flo and Stewart signed I think on deadline day in August 2002 and only scored 5 goals between them that season.

    My point is that signing big name players in a panic doesn’t always prove to be successful. Mind you I’ll hold my hand up and reveal that at the time I expected Flo to do the business. Shows how flawed my crystal ball is!

  6. Malcolm. I think to be fair to Marcus Stewart he did reasonably well for us, but for some reason his name is always paired with Tore Andre Flop as they arrived at the same time.

    TAF was a disaster but suggesting that Stewart falls into the same category I think is a little “Rodney Marsh.”

  7. I’d go for a 4-1-1-3-1 – i.e. a classic back four, a screener (Cattermole), a box-to-boxer (Colback), and a more forward trio of 2 widish players (Gardner & Larsson) + Sessignon playing behind 1 striker (Gyan). This way we spread the goals out, and can defend from the front.

  8. I still feel that Bruce has not yet made his “marquee” signing. It may be N’Zogbia but something tells me that a forward of proven Premiership quality is on his way. You heard it here first.

  9. You make a valid point Mr hoof and we must not lose sight of the fact that the players coming in are only replacing those who have gone. O’Shea and Brown for Mensah and Onohua. Gardner, Larsson and Vaughan for Zenden, Henderson and Muntari. Wickham for Welbeck which leaves Ji for B£nt. In terms of squad size we are where we were. Hopefully none of the incomers will be as liable to injury as Mensah was and if Bramble and Turner can stay fit we should be OK. Surely we can’t be as unlucky as last season and lose so many defenders at the same time unless those who point the finger at SB’s training methods are correct.

  10. Do any of my fellow red and whites feel we need defenders? I can count eight, and that includes Richardson and Ferdinand. It’s open for debate wether Bruce is counting them so are we not going to be short there, again? we’re not going to do that again are we?

  11. I agree with you Malcolm, we should not buy a striker at any price but that does not obviate our need for one and in this buying spree there seems to have been little attempt to secure one, even as a back up for Gyan

  12. Many of us were saying something similar this time last year – Kenwyne Jones had gone and we seemed to be reliant upon B£nt Waghorn and Campbell. The strike force looked very limited until Welbeck and Gyan came along. But they took a long time to bed in. There were those (many who use this site) who were ready to send Welbeck back to Man Ure before he came good.

    Whilst I agree with the main thrust of this article, decent strikers who command affordable wages are few and far between and Quinn and Short will stick to their salary structure. It’s easy for we fans to say bring in this player or that, but I would bet that SNQ and ES are backing the manager behind the scenes in the search for the players he feels he needs. The club are not going to up the cost of any potential targets by appearing desperate.

    Also McCartney, Angeleri, Nosworthy and Kilgallon are all on decent wages. If the club can off load any or all of them (and possibly Gordon?) then there will be more in the pot for a decent extra striker.

    Wickham’s equivalent is Welbeck, Ji Dong Won’s – Gyan. One a young lad with potential, the other an international unused to English conditions. Where we have made progress is that we now have midfield players who have contributed to the goals for column on a regular basis. I am feeling more confident about the upcoming season than I have for any other in the Premiership for at least a decade and for those of you who think we need a striker at any price I have six little words – Torre Andre Flo and Marcus Stewart!

    • Malcolm: you’re right about the need to offload and , that being accomplished, maybe Bruce having more money to play with. I’d have made the point myself but, as would have been seen by the typos towards the end of the piece as originally posted, I was beginning to drift off.

  13. For all the sound ( not exciting) purchases that we have made the gamble that Bruce is taking is as great as he one he took in selling Bent with no internal or external replacement being avaiable. It is for this reason that I remain convinced that Bruce has laid his head well and truly on the execution block.

    In essence he has based our entire season on a bubble attack. One stupid “prick” such as an injury to Gyan and we are relying on kids again because our attack will have burst asunder as quickly as it did on Bent’s departure.

    Now this is one gamble too far, because it is possible that one, or even two, of the young purchases will and are capable of stepping into the breach but such a baptism of fire is not ideal for them or us. We still need strength on the wings and proven power up front to replace or alternate with Gyan.

    Just a tongue in cheek thought Bent might be available if we get Nzogbia BECA– — USE HE WILL HAVE LESS SERVICE WITH VILLA NOW THAN HE GOT WITH US.

    The 1, 1 strike formation would normally flourish with a bigger more commanding front man than Gyan and our Korean acquisition showed signs of promise but against the top defensive squads in the Premiership promise is as much use as a wet fart in a high wind. BRUCE YOUR SLIP IS STILL SHOWING or as they said in my college days Charlie’s dead. I hope our season is not, even before it has begun.

    With the buying progress we were making I was really looking forward to this season but without a powerful and dependable second string of strikers the old rose tinted spectacles have been placed very firmly back in the cupboard

  14. I must admit I am not happy to settle with 4411, because if GYan gets injured, we’re absolutely goosed.
    You can’t expect to throw Wickham and Ji in straight away and expect them to blossom immediately.
    I still think we need one more big name striker.
    Now, if Gyan and Sess stay 100% fit, I can see a decent goal return. But, its a big if.

  15. I totally agree. If gyan gets hurt do we seriously pin our season on wickham and dong?? Much more than zoo get us Ngog or defoe or dj Campbell or welbeck. Let’s hope brucie does just that.

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