Voice of America: Kilgallon, Noble, Mandron and the substitute debate

Jake flies the flag for Robert Simmons
Jake flies the flag for Robert Simmons

Our occasional contributor from the far-off USA, Robert Simmons, is due to become a father for the fourth time today, a boy to throw a helping of slugs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails into the sugar and spice and everything nice served up by three waiting sisters. We wish all the Simmonses well. But while Mrs S prepares for labour, Robert turns to his labour of love, writing about Sunderland AFC – he has substitution policy on his mind …

While at this point
in the season most Sunderland fans expected the club to be climbing towards mid-table and comfortably out of sight of the relegation zone, it seems that Sunderland are still just trying to fill all the spots on their bench.

This past Saturday Martin O’Neill made headlines for only putting six players on his bench. This seems quite inexplicable considering we are the 8th highest spending club in the past 5 years, but it is the situation we found ourselves in.

What was even more surprising was that Sunderland went with a traditional 4-4-2 lineup and with both Steven Fletcher and Danny Graham in the first 11, there wasn’t a recognized* striker available on the bench.

Of our six players available as subs we had one goalkeeper, three defenders, and two midfield players. It was a quite baffling situation to find ourselves in. O’Neill did say Matt Kilgallon was scheduled to be on the bench, but adding a 4th defender to the bench isn’t exactly what we needed against Fulham.

When I logged in to twitter about half and hour before the match there was quite the uproar over a) our formation for the match b) the lack of a recognized striker on the bench and c) an open spot on the bench.

It seems like there are two opinions on why that bench spot should or shouldn’t be used, and I’m curious as to which camp the readers of salutsunderland fall into.

Position 1:

When there is a circumstance like these and a regular outfield players gets inured or is ill and isn’t fit for the match, O’Neill should give that spot to one of the young players who is playing well for the U-21s. This will give them some valuable experience and it gives them a bit of hope that they can move through the ranks and get some time on the senior team.

A player like Ryan Noble could have filled that spot and been a potential option as an attacker in case of an injury during the match (Danny Graham did in fact get subbed off, but we changed tactics a little rather than making a like for like sub). Another young striker who has impressed is Mikael Mandron and a spot on the bench would be a nice way to reward the young player. Essentially with this position, we have seven bench spots and it does us no good to not use them all, so reward a young player and fill the entire bench.

Position 2:

A spot on the bench is not something a young player just gets because there are no other options, it must be earned. If you are only getting that spot because of illness or injury, and the manager has no intention of using you, it isn’t really a reward to get that spot. There is a lot of pride that comes with getting a spot on a match roster in the Premier League and the manager doesn’t just give that place unless you’ve earned it.

The American college football team that I support does this with all their first year players. Those players must practice* in generic gear until they’ve earned the right to be given the team gear, and the same logic can be used when it comes to earning that spot on the bench. You don’t just get it, you must earn it.

So where do you fall in this argument? Should young players be rewarded and given a place on the bench, or should those opportunities only be given once you’ve earned the right in the managers eyes to be there?

* Firstly, for anyone new to Robert’s contributions, please note the usual style rules at Salut! Sunderland are suspended to allow an American to write like an American. Secondly, does anyone know whether the rules would even permit a new name to be added to the list of subs when the need arises so close to kick off?