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.
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.
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