Sixer’s Soapbox: Accrington have bottle. What about Sunderland?

John McCormick writes: I hesitate to give an analysis from a TV broadcast but I thought Accrington Stanley’s confidence grew after about 20 minutes because of our failure to get a grip on the game and the penalty came as no surprise. Surely we could have stopped them before then.  Afterwards, we had to battle to stay in the game, which, to our credit, we did, and O’Nien almost won me a mug right at the end.

Perhaps Jack Ross is reconfiguring after Maja and we’re getting there. Or perhaps not. Let’s see what Pete Sixsmith has to say. After all, he was at the game.

Twelve years ago, in our last promotion season/new dawn era, Roy Keane transformed the Sunderland team in the January window. In came two defenders from Manchester United, one a full international, a winger with pace and a tremendous shot and a fearless, bustling centre forward who knew he was only here for the short term, but who was determined to make his mark.


Step forward Danny Simpson, Jonny Evans, Carlos Edwards and Stern John.

Simpson and Evans made sure that the job was done before heading back to Old Trafford , while Stern John moved on to Southampton as part of the Kenwyne Jones deal in the next window. Carlos stayed and became a favourite. Oh, and there was Anthony Stokes, but let’s try and forget about him……

This year, Jack Ross has brought five new players in and, with the exception of Grant Leadbitter, there would be a difficult case to be made out for saying that (so far) any of them have made a positive contribution to a promotion bid that is stuttering in the fashion of a Polski Fiat running on low grade petrol (other Eastern bloc communist cars are available).

Our back four, which has never totally convinced, has looked even less so since Jimmy Dunne arrived on loan from Burnley. He has played alongside Flanagan, who was dropped after the AFC Wimbledon game and next to Baldwin. Both have struggled alongside him while he (Dunne) has shown a complete inability to pass a ball consistently to a team mate. Baldwin is little better at the moment and if we are going to persist in playing the ball out of the back a la Vincent Kompany and chums, we need, at the very least, to make sure that it goes to a red and white shirt.

Dunne lost Paul Smythe, a busy, hardworking centre forward, signed on loan from Queens Park Rangers and a full 5’1” in height, leaving him to head home the second goal of the night and to put his team in what looked like a commanding position. His energetic and thoughtful display put those of our two forwards, Wyke and Grigg, to shame. Smyth was deservedly awarded the Man of the Match trophy by our friends from the Murdoch empire.

Jack Ross at least acted positively by replacing the floundering Wyke (on this display, he passed the audition for playing the part of Brett Angell in the new Netflix series, “Great carthorses of Sunderland”) and sending on a fired up Chris Maguire.

Reading between the lines, there appears to have been a difference of opinion between manager and player, perhaps stemming from when Maguire gave the ball away in a dangerous position in the Luton game, leading to the penalty equaliser. I imagine he was pretty miffed to not even make the bench at Oxford last week, so he had something to prove. And he did.

Within two minutes of his arrival, he played the ball into the box and Will Grigg made his first meaningful contribution in a Sunderland shirt when he backheeled it to George Honeyman who ran it into the net.

Six minutes later, the most tattooed player at the club, made a telling pass to McGeady, who showed all his quality in thumping in the equaliser. Welcome back Chris; hope to see more of this.

He lit up as drab a display as I have seen since Moyes left. Those agitating for a 4-4-2 line up may now sit quietly at the back of the class, because it doesn’t work. I cannot think of any club who plays two out and out forwards up front; Blackpool didn’t and Stanley didn’t. Nor do Luton or Barnsley, let alone those higher up the food chain. Aguero is the only out and out centre forward at City, Liverpool don’t have one, Ali and Son play behind Kane.

We have tried it, it failed so let’s confine that one to the dustbin of history and let’s focus on getting the best out of the players that we have.

Will Grigg has not made an auspicious start. He had two glaring misses on Tuesday and there was another one in this game. It needed a firm shot on target; his effort was neither. The longer he goes without a goal, the harder it will get and the ability of Josh Maja to conjure up a goal from nowhere is being sorely missed.

Lynden Gooch struggled as well and was replaced later rather than sooner. His early season vim has disappeared and he rarely beats his man for either speed or trickery. Janoi Donacien had him in his pocket for most of the game and a rest may well be the answer for the American. His replacement, Lewis Morgan, at least ran at defenders, but by the time he came on, a very fit and well organised Stanley side had shut up shop and gave us neither space or encouragement.

Both goals were avoidable. Baldwin got himself in a real tangle and brought down Smyth with what most news organisations are describing as a “reckless” tackle; you can add “bloody stupid” to that. Baldwin never looked comfortable and if Ross is going to persist with Dunne, he has to make a decision on either Baldwin or Flanagan for the rest of the season. Or, he could drop Dunne and perhaps utilise Ozturk, who at least is difficult to muscle off the ball. He would have stood up to Sinclair better last week.

It was a very disappointing performance and one that makes me worry for the rest of the season. Accrington were not a big side, but like so many we have played this season, they have a game plan and they stick to it. They mark tightly, close down the ball and, when they get it, they do not give it away. We do.

There is a lot of thinking to be done before Gillingham arrive on Tuesday. It is felt by many that the manager now has too many players at his disposal and that he is unsure of his best team. How about this;

McLaughlin; Matthews, Baldwin, Flanagan, James; Cattermole, Leadbitter, Power; Maguire, McGeady; Grigg.

Twelve years ago, Roy Keane stuck with a settled team from February onwards and we strolled the league, playing some wonderful football. We could still do the same this year, but time is running out and opposing managers and coaches appear to have worked us out.

Tuesday night is a massive game. Fail to win that one and we may well be struggling to make the play offs.

Ha’way The Lads

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15 thoughts on “Sixer’s Soapbox: Accrington have bottle. What about Sunderland?”

  1. Studiously observed as always, thanks.
    Ross has made a 2 pts per match average target adequate for promotion. We are now three points behind that target at 59 pts from 31 games, and whilst being unbeaten, as folk have pointed out, losing a few and winning a few would have easily taken us ahead Ross’ target. Unfortunately, Barnsley & Luton are not playing ball (well, actually they are) as their totals are well beyond Ross. Luton are now 2.33ppg, with no sign whatsoever of faltering, whilst we are at 1.99ppg. Our two games in hand, given they may well be draws, will put us even further back. Clearly the answer is a string of wins, but that looks increasingly unlikely. Ross is defending his team, but for the most part they look low on energy, guile and finishing. But most importantly, confidence. Roy Keane, a rich man’s Cattermole, would always keep high standards however others around him played. Sadly, we have witnessed heads down so often the last four years(ish). Ross’ initial fighting spirit seems to have dissolved. Whilst that winner all those years ago against Charlton may have given us a false picture, this squad, defending and attacking together as a team, should take us up. Our backroom staff are having massive issues keeping Allardyce clean sheets and tactics that do not require tweaking when we’re 0-2 down. We are awash with midfield stodge. I’m a little surprised our author offers Leadbitter, Cattermole and Power as our engine. O’Nien is one player who has shown great improvement, from headless chicken to intelligent, versatile competitor. And he’s dropped!
    Whilst criticism and boos occur, players with low confidence will continue to offer below-par performances.
    We have depth in numbers, but not quality. Lovens and Ozturk have been abandoned. It’s a toss-up between Flanagan and Allen. Sorry, Baldwin, whose distribution is worrying. Surely he practises?
    I fail to see how James keeps Oveido out, especially in partnership with McGeady. And, sadly, after signing his new contract, Gooch lost his mojo.
    Ross seems to forgive mistakes (OK if you learn from them) from some players, but not McGuire, who led the Accy revival with gutsy spirit and guile.
    The lads showed a surge of decent play, the crowd behind them, keeping the ball and showing intelligent decisions in the final third. More please, preferably from the off. Best side. Dominate. Keep clean sheets. Consistently score more than 1.
    Leadbitter is a concern for me. Great spirit, good leader, but questionable distribution. He was telling others what to do, but not doing it himself. I’m not sure he’s any better than Catt.
    So, Ross should phone Sam and ask for his advice, and here’s my best 11 at the minute, for what it’s worth.
    McClaughlin, Matthews, Flanagan, Dunne, Oviedo, Cattermole, McGeouch/Honeyman, O’Nien, McGuire, McGeady, Watmore, Grigg. And utilise subs eg Sterling, Morgan, Kimpioka, Power

    C’mon you chaps

    • Oviedo has been injured I believe. Had this result been earlier in the season we would have been praising the team spirit and resilience. Those qualities are still there but quite rightly expectations have been raised and we are now disappointed with the result.

      On Friday we basically played with a back 2 with Leadbitter in front as O’Nien and James played high up the pitch. I’d like to see a back three with O’Nien and Oviedo as wing backs and Maguire with a free role playing off Grigg and McGeady and two more midfielders.

      Not sure about Morgan yet and I’d like to see Sterling on the bench as an impact sub.

  2. Pete’s summary coincides with what I saw on Sky.
    After a promising start we faded and Accrington dominated the rest of the first half.

    The tackle that brought about the penalty was completely unnecessary – he had no hope of winning the ball, and anyway, their player could not have scored from that position.

    Smyth was certainly MOTM. We had absolutely no answer to his pace and movement.
    Our defence is at best shaky, and we are fortunate to have a very good, possibly great, ‘keeper.

    On the positive front, the comeback was impressive. Last season we would have lost by 3 or 4.

    If Grigg had his shooting boots on we could have won. I’m pretty certain we have a decent striker here – IMO better than Maja. Once he scores, I think he will get goals consistently. I’m not so confident about Charlie Wyke though – he looks a bit out of his depth.

    I do think our squad is too big, and as a result Ross is chopping and changing too much. I think he will sort it out, and I do think we will make the playoffs [ and hopefully win them ]

    I think Luton and Barnsley are looking pretty good bets for automatic promotion. But we may be the best of the rest.

  3. Another very sensible summary from Pete that I largely agree with.
    His team selection for Tuesday is an interesting option but I would not rush to bring Cattermole back as any midfield with Power and Leadbitter is already lacking in pace. I would prefer to find a role for O’nien.
    I am becoming sceptical of Jack Ross’ ability due to him picking the wrong personnel and a lack of tactical nous as stated by YSYL.
    Ross will now be aware of the pressures accompanying management of a big club. Can he adapt and get better? mmm- not sure.

  4. If at the end of the season we have not gone up by less than 4 points it will be down to Jack Ross and these 2 games. You cannot keep doing the same things and expecting different results. Gooch keeps getting picked and hasn’t played well for months. Wyke is either unfit or not anywhere near good enough. Either way should not be seen in the forseeable future. We play it around at the back and then one of our centre backs lashes it in the air for Wyke to not win. Dreadful. Why has Maguire been missing? When he came on we started hitting it forward quicker and to feet.Too little too late it turned out, not least because we didn’t have a striker on the bench due to complete cowardice from the manager who clearly didn’t fancy telling Cattermole, Power or mcGeouch that they weren’t on the bench. I think there should be a prize for anyone who can come up with a scenario where we would have needed all 3 of our subs to be a defensive midfielder.
    Kimpioka will leave as soon as he can as he was refused a loan move as ‘he was key to the first team’ and as for Sterling, Spurs must be absolutely fuming, as must the member of our backroom staff who exploited his connections to get him. Spurs won’t lend us any players in the future.
    Finally, someone has to explain to Ross that with 3 points for a win it is quite good to actually win games. It seemed to me that for the last 10 minutes instructions went out to keep the ball more (we stopped playing riskier but more dangerous passes) and make sure that we didn’t concede a late goal to ruin the comeback. A win last night from 2 goals down was potentially season changing and we decided to stop taking risks.
    Ross needs to get his balls back and get back to how we started the season, trying to actually win games.

      • Eric
        Did you see the game? Which of my points do you actually disagree with or is anybody who is critical of anything at the club automatically a mag? I have been positive about many things this season but nobody who actually saw the games can be positive about Tuesday or Friday or, unless we change things, with our prospects for this season.
        Were you happy with 3 defensive mids on the bench and no strikers. Are you happy with seeing out draws instead of trying to win games? Did you see us change approach near the end of normal time (I admit that may have just been the players and not Ross but I watched the game again on Saturday morning and it is really clear that we went back to passing sideways between the centrebacks and stopped looking for an attacking pass).
        Ross has done many things right this season and has a bank of credit but he is rapidly eroding that with insipid, defensive performances at home

  5. Sorry, but what a negative write up; I watched a rose tinted game which was an excellent advert for the EFL. SAFC played some great football 1st 20 mins. They panicked when this play hadn’t resulted in a goal and started route 1 tactics against 6’6″ defender(s). Stanley continued to play on the ground and their goals flowed.

    There were good signs of our two forwards, just back from injury, linking up well, but JR took Wyke off instead of Gooch. Still Maguire was possibly MOTM , changed the momentum and we went back to playing on the ground. Take into account we should have had at least 2 penalties, possibly 3 plus Malcolm’s claim that O’Nien wasn’t offside and we should have won comfortably.

    Just watched Portsmouth/Southend on Sky – now that is a top 4 team that should be worried. Roll on Tuesday

      • Eric, of course I want us to win at all costs and would take a boring 1 nil. Mind we’ve had a couple of those recently as well.

        My point was that we were playing good football until our bottle went. Because we didn’t have the patience to wait for the first goal to arrive we resorted to route 1 football and we don’t have those type of players. Ross finally brought on Maguire, went back to playing football and only the ref stopped us winning the game comfortably.

        Ross is a very good young manager, still learning, turned around a dead and buried St. Mirren. Sacking managers got us here, give him time, we’ll win well on Tuesday.

      • What tosh.
        So moyes shouldnt have been sacked and we are worse off for doing so?
        Big sam shouldn’t have been brought in for little dick?
        We were going to hell on a handcart with o’neill when di canio came in.
        Big gus got us to a cup final after paolo was pushed. Bad decision huh.
        Thing is all the above inheritwd sh1te teams. If we peddle jackass ross whoever gets the job is getting arguably the best squad in the league.
        Organising a marshalling our defence will do wonders .
        Jackass is incapable of that.
        3 rb, 3lb, 6 cb is testimony to his tinkering, indecision and disorganization.
        Cut and dice anyway you like. He is floundering and panicking. He tried to rebuke those for simplistically calling for 2 upfront. Very next day ..abracadabra 2 up front.
        As for st mirren being dead and buried before ross raised them from the dead…oh please.
        Mic mac raised us from the dead. Billy davies raised derby from the dead. Ian holloqay raised Blackpool from the dead..
        Are we saying thet should be manager or given a chance?
        People continue to make excuses for this straw man.
        The game is up
        Him and his fellow stooges in the boardroom need peddling

      • Suggest some alternatives, instead of just repeating the same old negative insults then perhaps people wouldn’t find your comments so boring and tedious.

  6. When you come from behind to get a point, psychologically it often feels like a victory. We’ve done that twice now in four days yet psychologically it feels like two defeats.

    We were looking for six points and we’ve got two. A win and a loss would have been better. So much for our games in hand.

    There are a few things to look at. Firstly in both Tuesday night’s and last night’s game we started well and finished the stronger but in both we seemed to lose our intensity after about twenty five minutes.

    Too many loose passes and individual errors in the middle third of the game. Look at Accrington’s second goal. It starts when Honeyman pings the ball at Gooch who can’t control it but we get the chance to win it back then Leadbitter and O’Nien appear to leave it to each other and Dunne’s challenge is ineffective on the half way line, they break and score as Dunne struggles to cover.

    There were some positives (shoot me down Brian). Despite missing a chance he should have taken Grigg did well to get the ball to Honeyman for our first and as he did on Tuesday he turned, let the ball run and left the defence for dead but hit his shot high and wide rather than into the side netting.

    Whenever we go behind their defence we looked threatening. Wyke had a good chance to equalise but slid the ball wide. That was disappointing.

    Maguire’s free kick nearly won it for us but a quick thinking defender dropped back just in time to clear it off the line. If that is something that Stanley have worked on in training then well done to them.

    Was O’Nien offside? From where I sit I couldn’t tell but looking at the ten minute highlights on he certainly seems to be onside when the initial shot comes in. What did the Sky pundits think anyone?

    Grigg had successive shots blocked by diving defenders. Credit to them but those shots were on target as was Power’s that nearly won it for us. But we seemed to take forever to get the ball into a position where he felt comfortable taking it on.

    Dunne and Baldwin won plenty of headers on the half way line but the defence looks shaky and there was no real need for Baldwin to make that challenge. He was never going to get the ball.

    Early in the season when we played with that unbalanced back 4 with wing backs and Maguire marauding behind Maja, we were getting behind our opponents and playing with more intensity.

    McGeady played well last night and got the ball into the box more. How about this line up for Tuesday?

    McLaughlin, Flanagan, Baldwin (or Dunne), Ozturk, Oviedo (or James or Hume) O’Nien (right wing back) Leadbitter, McGeouch, Maguire, McGeady, Grigg?

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