View from the West Stand: Maja, McGeouch and a back three? Things to ponder

Having moved my seat – it’s time for an update!

In contrast to some other websites and social media platforms, contributors to Salut! Sunderland, whether in the main body of text or in the comments sections, tend to make reasoned arguments and are prepared to respect the opinions of others and discuss issues, rather than indulge in polemics.

The season has come to a disappointing end and inevitably the inquests have started and just as inevitably, there are those calling for a change of ownership and/or a change of manager in an open and frankly rude manner. On the whole these types seem to believe their simplistic solutions would see us competing in the top flight and challenging for European trophies. Often a variation of the very approach they advocate has been tried with disastrous consequences in the very recent past and many of their solutions ignore what happens in the real world.

Add to this a kind of double standard which sees any decent player in the squad who looks to move to another club, as a disloyal traitor or a money grabbing mercenary but welcomes an incomer with open arms whether or not they have spent years at their former club, nor in what circumstances they were persuaded to come to Sunderland AFC. Allied to that is the belief that as long we offer the right money, every single person who ever pulls on a pair of football boots would jump at the chance to come to Wearside, as if finding a top quality striker or centre back is the same as deciding whether to go into Harrods to buy some wild rocket, mignoette and micro salad or making do with some iceberg from Lidl.

Decisions have to be made and one course of action will impact on another. In football of course there are also the imponderables over which no-one has any control. One such decision which was made this season which quite rightly, is being questioned is whether or not the club should have made Josh Maja see out his contract and finish the season with us. Elsewhere both John McCormick and Paul Summerside make valid arguments that this, in hindsight was a poor decision and they are supported by others’ comments.

They might be right and we might have been looking forward to Championship football next season had Maja been retained, but the truth is we don’t know. Anything might have occurred and all we do know is what happened. Maja might have suffered a loss of form. He may have been the recipient of the type of meaningless and vindictive challenge that saw the unfortunate Duncan Watmore sent back to the treatment table so soon after his recovery from serious injury. Then again he may have scored another fifteen goals and turned some of those draws into wins and finished off Fleetwood and Southend before they took all three points from us. We’ll never know and while I know John and Paul will accept the truth of that, there will be others out there who will be 100% sure that I’m talking rubbish.

My own view is that there is no point in going back and bemoaning that particular decision but now what is needed is an analysis of what went well, what went badly and what we need to do to improve and I’m sure Jack Ross, the coaching staff and the owners will do so.

Letting Maja go and replacing him with an injured Will Grigg, who let’s face it, despite his song, hasn’t set the Stadium of Light or any away ground come to that on fire, seems to many a poor decision. Facts would seem to support that view though personally I am convinced we are yet to see the best of the former Wigan man. There is of course the financial aspect. Failing to get Maja tied down to a new contract would have seen him leave for nothing in the summer. I am prepared to accept that finances are such that without his transfer fee the club would have been limited when looking for a replacement over the summer, and had we gone up the type of player we needed to replace him would be expensive. At least with Will Grigg, the club has a saleable asset, as well as a player who might well contribute the number of goals we would like to see from him next season.

We need to find a way to get the best from him

Similarly Charlie Wyke, though working hard in every game he has played has not been in any way prolific. Does that make him a bad player? I think not – not at this level anyway so I think we need to look elsewhere as to how to improve.

One thing I’m sure the management team are looking at is the balance of the squad. In my view, the best 11 players don’t necessarily make the best team and one of the problems I feel we had against Charlton was the lack of creativity in midfield. To my mind, Power, Leadbitter, Honeyman and Cattermole may all have deserved to start on recent performances but are all too much of a muchness in my view. Of course the manager has to pick from the players at his disposal and judge not only how fit they are, but how ready they are to start, but in the case of Honeyman, Leadbitter and Cattermole, there should be no room for sentiment in a one off play off game. I’m sure that didn’t play a part in JR’s thinking but it’s possible he felt that they might be more motivated than some others.

Dylan McGeouch is perhaps our most creative midfielder, but wasn’t even on the bench. He hadn’t really contributed much in the two previous games he had started but might have been able to give us something the others didn’t. Bali Mumba is young and inexperienced but again might have been the spark that was lacking in midfield. O’Nien is lively in midfield and has considerably more pace than those who started in midfield, but seems to have become the first choice right back.

Will Grigg is a different type of player to Charlie Wyke and with McGeouch in the side I would have been interested to see if Grigg and Maguire might have been able to work the Charlton defence better than we did on the day.

Morgan has been inconsistent since he came to us on loan and didn’t really get into the game on Sunday. He might have done as he has the ability. After Power was forced off I thought his introduction to the game might have seen a simpler tweak to the formation than we got, with Honeyman taking up Power’s position and Morgan playing Honeyman’s role but the skipper seemed to carry on taking up the same positions and the Celtic man never looked totally sure of what was expected from him.

A more creative option?

With Aiden McGeady less than 100% we may have expected more from O’Nien and Oviedo in the attacking third but as we saw against Coventry a kamikaze approach can be fatal (yes I know you Japanese speaking purists not can be but is) but I wondered if Jack Ross considered tweaking the system prior to Wembley. After all for the first time in ages he had an opportunity to put in some serious work on the training ground.

Might a back three have been better? It worked in the second half of the opening game of the season, when Ozturk was pushed out wide. I thought back then he looked good on the left of a back three. That would have allowed the wing backs more freedom to attack and I know it’s not a system Jack Ross has employed much but that in itself might have been a plus. The one reservation I have about JR’s tactics is they became too predictable.

Early in the season there was a fluidity about the team. Players knew their own roles, but also each others’ and we saw them chopping and changing within the game. If a full back went high up the pitch, the defence would move over and a midfielder would drop back to cover. We moved the ball more positively and players were always looking for space. The front line too would swap positions. We seemed to lose this as the season wore on. That may have been tiredness, owing to the number and frequency of fixtures but it’s something that can be worked on over summer but being able to implement plans A B and C during the course of a game, would give opponents a bit more to think about.

We’ll never know if Josh Maja was the difference between us going up and facing return trips to Accrington, Rochdale and Lincoln (games I’m looking forward to) and Milton Keynes, Portsmouth and Coventry (games I doubt I’ll be going to) and we’ll never know if my starting line up of McLaughlin, Flanagan, Dunne, Ozturk, O’Nien Leadbitter, Cattermole, McGeouch, Oviedo, Maguire, Grigg would have been able to see off Charlton.

But the club now has the foundations in place and can build this summer, whereas twelve months ago, those foundations were shaky and the cracks full of expandable filler.

Ha’way the Lads

Sixer’s Rochdale Soapbox: a victory won on the playing fields of Cleadon

Malcolm Dawson writes….this was a pretty good day all round. The sun was shining as we left County Durham and it stayed that way as we made our trouble free journey down the A1 and M62 arriving at Brighouse just as the sun climbed above the yardarm. Surprise, surprise the pub was awash with red and white striped shirts enjoying a beer and a Wetherspoons breakfast. I’d hazard a guess that most other pubs near the roads leading to Rochdale in this part of West Yorkshire and over the county boundary would have been the same.

We managed to get parked close to the ground and I got myself a commemorative mug.

There are many different ways to win. The home game with Rochdale had been relatively straightforward and provided the satisfaction of a comfortable victory, but there is a different kind of contentment that comes from conceding early then sealing victory in the dying minutes. As we saw in that first game of the season against Charlton, and last week at Wembley, this is a team that will keep trying until the final whistle and testament to the work ethic that Jack Ross and his backroom team have instilled at the Academy of Light.

And still the sun shone.

I was home by 7.30 which is not much later than many a journey back from the Stadium of Light when there’s been a big crowd. On the whole a pretty good day.

Rochdale might be struggling near the foot of the table but there have been few easy games in this league and this was another where our boys had to dig deep to get a result. How did Pete Sixsmith see things and what sort of day did he have? Read on to find out.

ROCHDALE (away)

The Duke of Wellington was not a great football fan. As a pupil at Eton College, he was probably more inclined to the eponymous Wall Game before he became an eminently quotable soldier and politician.

He preceded the European Reform Group by two centuries when he said “We always have been, we are and I hope we shall always be, detested in France.” His view of railways was spectacularly wrong – “Depend upon it sir, nothing will ever come of them” – but he was often succinct with his advice. When, in his dotage, he was asked by Queen Victoria how to rid the Crystal Palace of sparrows, he replied “Sparrowhawks, Ma’am, sparrowhawks.” It worked.

His best known quote relates to Waterloo – the battle not the station – which he described as “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life” and that could well be a summary of the win at Spotland on Saturday, a win that left us maintaining our lead over a dogged Portsmouth, breathing down the necks of a worried of Barnsley and putting us within catching distance of long time leaders Luton Town.

The Iron Duke

It was by no means the footballing master class that we produced on Wednesday. This was a win that had to be dug out after we went into the break a goal down to an invigorated Rochdale side who gave everything and ended up with nothing. Had I been a neutral, I would have felt some considerable sympathy for them and their newly appointed manager, Brian Barry-Murphy, but sympathy is of no use if you are in the relegation zone.

It needed a performance of some character to overcome them and we got that in the second half, with Charlie Wyke, Dylan McGeouch and Luke O’Nien leading the way as we stormed back to take three oh so valuable points and send a shudder down the spines of Tykes’ and Hatters’ fans and management.

Aiden McGeady, the catalyst of the splendid win at Accrington on Wednesday, was missing and was replaced by Lyndon Gooch. He lasted half an hour before he limped off and was replaced by George Honeyman. Cometh the hour, cometh the man as they say in the gentrified parts of Southwick, Shildon and Shotton.

By half time we were a goal down and struggling. Rochdale had absorbed our early pressure, with keeper Josh Lillis making a fine save from Will Grigg and when our defence committed its only serious lapse, Ian Henderson was on hand to take advantage of a Joe Bunney cross to put Dale ahead.

Henderson formed a striking partnership with Aaron Wilbraham, a partnership with a combined age of 73. The former is a mere stripling of 34, the latter a venerable 39 and they caused us some problems, mainly by denying both Baldwin and Flanagan the space to move forward. At Accrington on Wednesday and at Wembley, both had brought the ball out. This was denied them here.

Henderson’s shot was the only one on target from a Rochdale player and McLaughlin had a relatively quiet afternoon although he did make a fine second half save when a clearance from Baldwin ballooned into the air and he had to be quick to push it over the bar.

The players did the usual “girding up of loins” and showed their character and fitness in the second half.

Dylan McGeouch was outstanding, fetching and carrying and wearing out Camps and Rathbone, who had thwarted him in the first. His drive and energy enabled us to spend the entire forty-five minutes on the front foot and he will continue to play a major part in the promotion push.

Charlie Wyke had won many sceptical fans over on Wednesday with a thundering performance at The Crown Ground. He did it again here and was rewarded with the kind of goal that he scored for fun at Carlisle United and Bradford City.

Denver Hume played him in and he rolled a Rochdale defender before turning and tucking away a well-placed shot beyond the keeper to level the scores and create an impetus that ended up with a late, late winner. He looks fitter and more up for it and he appears to enjoy working with Grigg. There is less pressure on him and Grigg is a much more straightforward player to link up with than Josh Maja was. The sound of his name ringing around Spotland will have done him a world of good.

We pressed for the winner.

Denver Hume, a tad disappointing today, was replaced by the returning Bryan Oviedo which meant that the thrust of our attacking came from the full backs. By this time, O’Nien was running Joe Bunney ragged down the right hand side and it was from here that the winner came.

In the 89th minute, O’Nien once again got past Bunney and into the box. His low cross was picked up by George Honeyman who turned it past Lillis to send the 3,500 Red and Whites into a frenzy and to heap despair on the Blue and Whites who were preparing to celebrate a point well taken.

Skipper goes wild at Spotland

We closed the game out comfortably and news came through that Luton had drawn and Barnsley had lost so there was joy unconfined amongst the hordes as they poured back to the buses and cars scattered around the residential streets of Spotland – although in my case I missed the street where the bus had parked and had to be collected on the main road having walked a mile away from the ground. My face was redder than a Sunderland track suit top. Silly old fool…….

Sometimes promotions are won when you have to dig a win out. We are good at come backs and have a reputation for resilience. Late goals at Walsall, Wycombe and now Rochdale have put us in a strong position. The squad is the deepest in the division and players who have come with strong reputations and had not so far lived up to them, have stepped up and shown why Jack Ross and Tony Coton brought them to the club in the first place. Others have improved as the season has gone on and have played major parts in continuing this promotion push.

The only drawback in going up is that it takes away the visits to places that we have rarely been to before. Rochdale was a pleasure. The sun shone, the town looked good and there was plenty to do pre match.

Many headed for a large Wetherspoons where a customer came in, took his coat off and revealed a Newcastle United top. He was ushered out by staff as the Greater Manchester Constabulary arrived and called him an idiot.

My wanderings took me past the site of a theatre where Gracie Fields made her first public appearance, I gazed in wonder at the Gothic splendour of the Town Hall,

Hitler’s favourite Rochdale landmark

so admired by Hitler and spent a pleasant hour in the Rochdale Pioneers Museum where I bumped into Gary and Jane Stout. He has just retired from teaching so I was able to assure him that it was a time to look forward to.

The Baum next door to the museum fed and watered me with a cottage pie with pickled red cabbage and a pint of Admiral from Rochdale’s Pictish Brewery. Should you find yourself in the town I heartily recommend this fine pub with its cheery bar staff and excellent food and drink.

The Baum

So, apart from wandering the roads of Rochdale post match, a grand day out and a pleasant journey back in the light. Home by 8.00, I even stayed up to watch the highlights on Quest. I shan’t be bothering with that any more.

We now go into a sequence of three successive home games which will define where we finish up. Let’s get behind the team and roar them home. Near run things are fine once in a while but straightforward victories are much better for the blood pressure.

I don’t know what the First Duke of Wellington would have made of all of this, but he would have admired the fighting spirit of Jack Ross’s troops.

“Up Guards and at ‘em” seems a fitting way to end.

Ha’way The Lads…..

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Sixer’s Accrington Stanley Soapbox:comprehensive win keeps Lads on track

Malcolm Dawson writes…..I was originally supposed to be otherwise occupied this week but my prior engagement was cancelled so I could have gone once I realised there were still tickets on sale. Expecting to be in Lancashire until Friday of this week, I had ordered a ticket for Rochdale and planned to spend an extra evening in that fine county but finding myself back in the wilds of County Durham, I thought that two drives in a week was a bit much after my Wembley jaunt, so I decided I would use the safsee coverage to follow the game. But even though the club website said live streaming was available, it turned out that a dispute over a payment to Stanley to allow a beam back to the SoL, meant it could only be seen by overseas viewers. <strong>Pete Sixsmithg/strong> was there of course to witness a fine victory which is a step in the right direction if we are to finish in one of the automatic promotion places. Here’s how Pete saw things at The Wham.

ACCRINGTON STANLEY (away)

There were worries that this game could prove to be a defining one on the road back to the respectability of the Championship.

Would there be post Wembley blues from the players?

Would Stanley use this game as an opportunity to start their own revival as they slid towards the relegation zone?

Would the weather and a sticky pitch stop us from playing the quality of football that we know this side is capable of?

The answer can be found in the Amy Winehouse song that we adapted and sang about Nyron Nosworthy in our last successful promotion campaign. No! No! No!

The Nozzter:

The players showed their commitment to the cause and shed off the blues as quickly as many of the 1,650 followers who had trekked over to this post-industrial part of North East Lancashire. They looked determined to put the (mild) disappointment of Sunday behind them and start on the task of pegging back Barnsley and possibly, Luton Town.

The opposition were nowhere near good, clever or fit enough to stop a Sunderland side that treated this game as if they were visitors from another world, determined to show the locals how to play football and to put them firmly in their place. The home team resorted to a not very pleasant combination of long balls and undue physicality as they adopted an approach which can be characterised in the damning indictment of the man behind me as “ale-house football ».

And the weather, although by no means an early indicator of global warming, was nowhere near as ferocious as it had been in December, when Malcolm and John sat huddled in the Peel Park Hotel and I entertained children and their parents with a few jolly “ho, ho, ho »s in Jesmond.

Charlie is the darling – well he was last night

As with the Nyron song, there were three outstanding performances from a team that saw five changes from the Wembley disappointment. Denver Hume came in for the injured Reece James, Max Power took over from Lee Cattermole who had an ankle problem, Grant Leadbitter was rested which allowed Dylan McGeouch to start, Lynden Gooch came in for Lewis Morgan who was on the bench and Charlie Wyke replaced the still suspended George Honeyman.

The changes worked with Wyke and particularly McGeouch having good games, while the third member of the triumvirate, Aiden McGeady, was outstanding, as he has been for much of the season. Happy 33rd birthday, Aiden. Don’t break a rib blowing out all the candles.

As an elder statesman surrounded by mostly young players, McGeady has been a credit to himself. He is clearly well respected as a man as well as a player and when he scores goals like the one that opened the scoring after four minutes, he is the difference between winning and not winning. That was his 14th of the season and he won’t have scored many better ones as he smacked home a fierce shot after creating space for himself.

Thereafter, he tortured the Accrington defence who resorted to kicking him and he remained in the changing room at half time complaining of a sore ankle. Lewis Morgan, who improves by the game, replaced him and although not as tricky and as wriggly as McGeady, did well.

Aiden McGeady – finding the net on a regular basis

Charlie Wyke got a start in a new system where we played two up front. It worked and Charlie was the main reason why. He played like a centre forward should, barging into defenders, holding the ball up and laying it off to team mates. Granted, his shooting was a tad wayward (alright, a lot) but he won over the crowd who gave him great support and who clearly want a player who looks like a real trier to succeed. We need to be careful though as if Newcastle fail to follow the Rondon deal through, the Tactical Genius That Is Rafa, may see Charlie as an ideal replacement.

Finally, Dylan McGeouch. When he came from Hibs, he was seen as a marquee signing, but he never quite got into things as the season unwound. The bench and his bottom have been well acquainted and he must have been disappointed not to get on to the pitch on Sunday. If he was, he responded in the perfect way by running this game.

He was the complete opposite of Macavity the Mystery Cat who, you may remember, “was never there ». Dylan was. Every time I followed the ball, he was in the vicinity. He brought the ball out of defence, he won tackles and headers, he helped team mates out of tight situations and he drove us forward. That’s the best we have seen from him so far. I look forward to seeing much, much more.

The Mystery Black Cat

The other two goals were well taken. Will Grigg looked happier alongside Wyke and got onto the end of a long clearance by the always excellent McLaughlin to slot thee ball into the net and effectively win the game. I had just prepared my half time seven which said “Good performance but second goal remains elusive.” Shows how much I know.

I was pleased to see Kazaiah Sterling notch his first senior goal. He got on the end of a fine, low cross from Morgan and slotted the ball in before nearly jumping over nearby Pendle Hill and disturbing the sleeping witches that dwell there.

As for Stanley, they are in trouble. They were a shadow of the team they were a few weeks ago when they put the wind up us on Wearside. Paul Smyth was their most dangerous player but he spoiled himself by diving and by committing a series of fouls including a nasty one on Luke O’Nien which deserved a booking at the very least.

It was an enjoyable day. Refreshments were taken in Colne where I sampled a splendid pint of George Wright’s Plum Porter from nearby St Helens at Boyce’s Barrels, a micro pub in a street of micro pubs. I wandered around the town which still has a pride in its civic buildings – the Town Hall, the former Co-Op department store, the civic buildings and a memorial to the bandmaster on RMS Titanic, Wallace Hartley, who hailed from the town.

Like that ill-fated ship, Accrington look like they are going down.

We could help them by banging a few nails in Rochdale’s coffin on Saturday.

Match highlights via safc.com

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Jack Ross ‘should let Dylan McGeouch show what he’s made of at Wembley’. Discuss

                           Jake, le penseur

We all know the Checkatrade, plus the international breaks and that match abandonment at Accrington Stanley, have left us with ground to make up on the other promotion contenders. A congested April (eight league games) makes a top-two place all the harder to secure. Here, Simon Carving puts the case for a bold selection choice for Sunday’s final …

Sunderland are delicately poised in fourth position in League One, five points behind second-placed Barnsley but, importantly, with two games in hand. Win those games (and a third if, as expected, Barnsley see off Coventry at home on Saturday to create an eight-point gap), and they will climb into the second automatic promotion place. Stumble and they will end up in the playoffs.

Read moreJack Ross ‘should let Dylan McGeouch show what he’s made of at Wembley’. Discuss

Welcome to Sunderland, Dylan McGeouch, Reece James and Jordan Hunter

Update: there is also news on possible and thoroughly welcome departures . Neither Papy Djilobodji nor Didier Ndong reported back for duty as expected – and, presumably, contracted – so while they or their agents hawk their services around other clubs, SAFC can perhaps save a little money by fining them each two weeks’ wages for any indiscipline that cannot be explained by the need to visit sick aunts. Lamine Kone was also absent from the team’s training camp trip to Portugal, also having no wish to prolong his stay at Sunderland, though he did at least make it back to Wearside. Which of them, in all honesty, will be missed?

The day started with a great series of questions and answers with Charlie Methven – check it out here and for the next two days – and now we have news of further signings.

It began with news of the arrival of the Scottish international and former Hibs midfielder Dylan McGeouch and, for Elliott Dickman’s Under 23 squad, Jordan Hunter, on a free from Liverpool. And it continued – see below – with the announcement of another import, defender Reece James from Wigan.

For now, let safc.com tell the story:

Read moreWelcome to Sunderland, Dylan McGeouch, Reece James and Jordan Hunter