Another voice: on coping with Newcastle

After each game, Ian Porter offers fellow Sunderland fans his analysis at the Blackcats e-mail loop. Agree or disagree – some would say he’s spot-on about Mensah, utterly wrong about SuperKev – his views are sharp and well argued. Luckily, Ian has given Salut! Sunderland permission to reproduce them here from time to time …

There’s already been some debate on Turner v Mensah v winning team etc. These are the decisions that managers have to take & getting them right is what separates the top managers from the rest.

For me, it’s a no-brainer, when John Mensah’s fit, he’s the first name on the teamsheet – period. Assume we’d beaten Aston Villa without Darren Bent through injury, would Steve Bruce not pick him next week, I don’t think so?

Turner for me is a good squad player to have on the bench. His distribution & pace are non-existent. I do think though that whilst Bent’s still been working as hard as ever, his touch has deserted him, but more on that later.

We’re now hovering around the dizzy heights of Peter Reid’s heydays, but I can’t help thinking that we’re lucky to be doing so but also thinking we should be even higher ! We were lucky to get away with three points against Villa I think, and it took (another!) own goal to do it for us. We could quite easily have lost this one.

Our draws record says several things, that we’ve held our own against some of the “top” teams recently, which seems good, but it also says that we’ve played well defensively, worked hard, had lots of good possession, but most importantly have been pretty innocuous in front of goal. Whilst there’s many cries for Gyan to play, I think when he has come on & we’ve changed formation, we’ve started defending too deeply & ended up on our heels defending to hang on. I don’t think that’s down to Gyan per-se, more that the midfielders have been working so hard & are almost burned out, and suddenly have to work that much harder with one man less.

This is where I’m getting to now though, and why I think Bruce has his tactics wrong despite the recent unbeaten & good defensive run. First off, Mensah has to play when fit. We need to start with a 4-4-2 formation, not end the game with it. You go 4-5-1 when you’re hanging on. For me, it’s the 4-5-1 that’s ruining DB’s game at the moment. Physically, he’s not up to the lone striker role, but I think the biggest problem is that he’s not getting the instinctive chances in the box that he thrives upon, as he’s getting the ball outside the box & having to run alone with it. In honesty, Bent’s the same as Lineker & SoperKev, pretty useless outside the box. However, there’s more to the 4-5-1 formation that’s wrong as well I think.

If you’re playing that formation, then you have to have the pacy, goalscoring midfielders in the team to support the lone striker. In our case, Bruce’s giving that role primarily to Steed. As well as Malbranque’s playing, he’s never going to be a goalscorer, so I think he is part of our “problem”. When we go 4-4-2, it’s invariably around the 60 min mark when Steed burned out & needs to come off as well, so we need to make two subs at the same time.

Against Villa he was chasing shadows much of the 2nd half. However, in a 4-5-1 midfield, for me, it’s Welbeck that’s our biggest problem. First of all he’s not a midfielder, and I wouldn’t call him a goalscorer either. Ultimately though, I don’t think he’s actually very good. Why has Bruce let Colback leave again ? I’d have preferred to see him before Welbeck. But with our choice of midfielders, there’s no goals in any of them, again another reason why we must play 4-4-2.

Putting everything together, I’d like to see the following starting line up (with reserve options) when everyone is fit:

Mignolet(Gordon)
Onhua (bardo) Mensah(Turner) Bramble(Da Silva) Richardson(Da Silva/Bardo)
Elmo(Henderson) Catts(Riveros) Henderson(Riveros) Steed(Zenden/Richardson)
Bent (Welbeck) Gyan (Welbeck)

If we didn’t already know it, we’re short of choice up front, but we do have our record signing on the bench for some obscure reason ? Ultimately though, if we don’t start scoring goals from somewhere, our draws run is going to fizzle out & we’ll start going down the league. The only way I can see us scoring more though is to go 4-4-2, which ultimately will get the best out of Bent again.

However, to contradict myself, I’d start with 4-5-1 on Sunday. The Mags will be well fired up & come at us strongly in the 1st 20 mins I think. If we can weather that storm, then I’d change it at half time to 4-4-2 & go for the win. Catts v Barton is going to be interesting, probably down to who loses their head first ! Enrique is one of their biggest threats so I see Elmo’s running as being critical in both stopping him & keeping him pushed back. But ultimately though, the Mags game is route 1 to Carroll. If you stop the “supply” you stop Carroll, but equally, you need height to defend against him & a keeper that can come off his line & be prepared to be battered. I’ve total faith in Mignolet in this respect. I really fancy DB against their central defenders, but not if he’s up front alone.

A few points about yesterday’s game though. Mignolet was top man again. Onuha played much better, had a good game. ElTobe was much better as well, but still no wonderful crosses. Titus had possibly his “worst”, and most difficult game so far & was exposed a couple of times because he didn’t go for row Z. I just hop he is decisive & switched on next week as I’d feel really sorry for him if the clown turns up to concede against Shola of all people ! Henderson was a bit hot & cold I thought. Catts really deserves credit for changing his game since his misdemeanors. I thought he was excellent yesterday. Steed was a bit hot & cold, his crossing in particular was way off the mark at times, even his cross for the OG was poor & was nowhere near any of our players. Gyan looked to be starting to shape up well when he came on, SB must start playing him, and soon.

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21 thoughts on “Another voice: on coping with Newcastle”

  1. well….told you Dave was right

    Also – Bramble getting bullied into a mistake. It’s become predicatable

    See comment on latest post

    We’re going down

  2. Best defensive run for a decade in the top flight (or any division for that matter). Yeah, let’s change everything.

  3. It strange to think anyone would waltz into the Sunderland midfield with players of the calibre of Riveros a World Cup star and Zenden sitting on the bench, all the top clubs reportedly casing Henderson and Elmohamody and Cattermole the club captain with Malbranque playing out of his skin week in week out.
    Sunderlands midfield have been cositently good this season outplaying Liverpool ( Gerrard etc) Arsenal and Man U. The Town may have some good players but they have lacked consistency and I don’t think Bruce is looking at any of their players. WE SHALL SEE ON SUNDAY

  4. Putting my neutral hat on here.

    A comment above mentions Smith, Smith won’t be playing for the Mags, they have a good defensive midfielder in Tiote, who would easily walk in our team imo and have a feeling Catts could be outplayed by him, watched him against West Ham and wow he was good!

    Barton has had a great start to the season, and Gutierrez and Enrique on the left could really be a problem for us.

    What would Elmo be like on the left? Attacking Simpson, probably the weak link in the squad.

    It would be just like us to lose this game, not many SAFC fans getting tickets, 2500 to be exact due to the Police reducing our allocation. Got my ticket anyway, seat 472, row W.

    I will be happy with a draw, they can always spring a suprise!

  5. Life is all about opinions but there is nothing to suggest the Town could put 4 past Sunderland. Newcastle have the element of surprise against most premier league clubs thats why without itthey lost to Blackpool, and Wigan made them look ordinary. They surprised Villa and Everton, but I will be dissapointed if they surprise Bruce and although it won’t be the end of the world if we lose 4-0 it would be very close to it. We have a good team that are improving and ambitious N’castle have deadend deadbeats, Smith, Barton Ameobi and Nolan how can you build on that

  6. Well, if there’s a defender who can be bullied into mistakes it’s Bramble.

    The barcodes have blown hot and cold this year – take their game against West Ham as an example. First half they looked poor and West Ham had plenty of chances to put the game to bed. Second half WHU sat off and Newcastle played and made WHU look awful

    If they’re up for it, I actually find myself agreeing with Dave

  7. spot on ian, nice to read a worthwhile obective view! hoping bruce sees this and we start 442 on sunday. why cant we switch steed and welbeck when we play 451? please brucey start using our squad, thats why we have it!

  8. Strange Big Dave that after great defensive displays against Man U, Arsenal Man City and Liverpool as well as away against Blackburn, you think we will come unstuck against a mediocre attack who bully teams into mistakes. Bramble has got lot to prove over there and I think he has the guts to show them, but 3 or 4 down beggars belief. Its a derby and it won’t be easy but we expect that and it won’t be easy for them just as no other team have an easy ride against us this season

  9. Too much doom and gloom in that write up for me
    5pm Saturday we were 3 points off 4th place – 7 games unbeaten
    While we remain unbeaten , playing with a 5 man midfied , I honestly can’t see him changing it .
    I would , though play Mensah if fit in place of Turner . To me , in the last 2 matches Onuah has looked a bit suspect , he started really shakily against Blackburn – then went totally missing from the right back position 3 or 4 times against Villa , thats the problem playing a centre half at right back – remember Nosey trying to play there !!!! (their best chance 2nd half when Young crossed from left and Heskey did a step over – where was our right fullback ??) So i’d play Richardson left back when fit and Bardlsey right back (on current form) . Gyan has got to start a match before long – surely we can work a similar system to the present employing 2 forwards with 1 of them dropping off when we lose possesion ??
    As far as the Malbranque comment goes – why would we want to “cut loose” our most creative player !!!

  10. When we play 4-4-2 like on Saturday against Villa we leave gaps in the midfield. Sidwell played the 2nd half unmarked and caused problems. Against the Town we need to exploit their lack of pace and Bent Gyan have it in abundance. I simply can’t get my head around Welbeck starting every game his performance don’t warrent it. IF Bruce thinks Welbeck is better than Gyan why di he pay 13m for him. The defence has been sound in recent weeks and it would be difficult to justify changing the personnel the midfield has Zenden pushing for a place but Riveros hasn’t justified inclusion. N’cstl were average against West ham and a well organised team could as Blackpool did put them to the sword, lets go with the tried and tested and lets face it successful up to now

  11. Big Dave What the HELL have you been smoking, 3 or 4 Nill. REALLY call your self a Sunderland supporter. I don’t think so!!!!! We will beat them bar-codes on Sunday, mark my words. Its about time you start supporting a different team, your glass must always be half EMPTY……. FTM.

  12. I agree with 4-5-1 for the mags.
    Get them closed down in midfield and get the crowd restless, then adopt a 4-4-2 with Gyan on if the match opens up.

    I think Bruce has been right to play 4-5-1. Remember we’ve been playing the top teams When we play midtable and lower we can go 4-4-2.

    I would take a draw, but I think we can sneak a 3 pointer.
    The thing with derby games though is that they are like cup ties, anything can happen. Its about raw passion mostly, not so much about form etc.

  13. I am a Sunderland fan and have been for over 30 years. I can see us getting beat 3 or 4 nill at the weekend they are just too good and the quality of our squad is too poor. I would snap their hand off for a draw now.

  14. If i put my neutral hat on from the outside looking in, you appear to have the basis of a very good team, all appear to work hard without any drama queens. I was a bit surprised when you sold Jones and agree that u need to be 4-4-2 – similar issue to us until final quater of Wigan and the full West Ham game.

    Without my neutral hat i hope you have no luck at the weekend 🙂

  15. im a toon fan and cantg wait for the game it shud be a gd contest i cant see it finishing with ten men on both sides like ive gotta say though id agree with ur tactic about 4-5-1 but id start tht gyan yas bought cos our back line play far to high one ball and he will do them for pace

    i rekon its gonna be 2-2 cattermole and knolan to be sent off barton is more level headed these days hope the ref dont spoil it the premire leagues refs are gettin worse

  16. You have some good points and I agree with most of them.
    I would have played these:
    Mignolet-not because he is our best keeper,but because of his
    performances.
    Onouha-Have done well,very well.
    Mensah-Turner didn’t cope with Heskey.Otherwise he has played
    well so far.Mensah when fit is my first choice.
    Bramble-Have done well,very well.
    Richardson if fit otherwise Bardsley
    Elmohamady
    Henderson
    Cattermole
    Zenden
    Bent
    Gyan

  17. Interesting that Ian’s ideal lineup has Da Silva and Riveros on the bench. He’s not wrong, though, and he may well be right in the need to start with a 4-5-1 formation against the Mags. His argument makes sense. Otherwise, yeah, we’d generally do better with 4-4-2. How long can Bent go on as a soloist? As I’ve said before, Bruce’s tactics seem very much at fault so far this season. We look to be in a respectable position until you consider that there’s only a three-point spread separating a dozen teams.
    Weighing positive/negative, might January not be a good time to cut Malbranque loose?
    Cattermole vs Barton next Sunday — I wonder if this will end up a 10-a-side game?

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