One game in and a few black clouds have already begun to form above the Stadium of Light. Following the opening day draw with Oxford United, most fingers of blame have pointed firmly in the direction of Jack Ross and his use of a 3-5-2 system that clearly did not work on the day.
I think Ross has many faults tactically, lacks consistency and his decision-making seems to be getting worse the longer he is here. Should we emerge from the upcoming fixtures with Ipswich and Portsmouth without a win, then any pressure to remove him from his position will no doubt intensify further.
Social Media posts and SAFC Podcasts since Saturday have focused mainly on the manager too, correctly highlighting that this isn’t ‘just one game in’, it’s indeed a continuation from last season and the majority of the calendar year so far.
All valid points raised; however, I have to take issue with the common perception that Ross should be doing much better ‘with this squad’ as if he clearly has the quality at his disposal? Take out a few individuals and I couldn’t really tell you if it’s any better or worse than anyone else in this division? Granted this is mainly due to my lack of League One knowledge, but I wonder how many other fans think the same?
Putting the opposition to one side, my main questions on the current Sunderland squad are regarding the recruitment strategy.
The flaws on the pitch were glaringly obvious to all at the end of last season -
Painfully slow in attack.
Lack of height, strength and physical presence in the middle.
Short on quality at centre-half.
Left exposed with our lack of fullbacks.
No one to link our deep-lying midfielders to our strikers.
Forget about a change in formation, those fundamental problems should have been addressed immediately. Even on a shoestring budget that should have been the case. I’m certainly not writing off any of the incoming players after one game, but with the exception of Jordan Willis perhaps, would you say we now have solutions to any of those aforementioned problems?
Especially in the middle. Do we think Dobson, Embleton, Robson or even O’Nien are the answers? Maybe so, but my gut feeling says otherwise. What is the Short/Medium/Long term recruitment plan at the club? Who identifies players? Who ultimately has the final say?
Following George Honeyman’s departure to Hull City, Stewart Donald responded to accusations of selling him without Ross’s knowledge by Tweeting: “Hull made offer - football management told & internally discussed. I am then advised. I didn’t know about the offer till we had indicated it was acceptable and the football management had discussed it.”
So, on face value, that is an indication that ‘The Recruitment Plan’ is between ‘The Football Management’ of Jack Ross, Richard Hill and Tony Coton with Donald giving the final say once most of the leg work has been carried out.
Now if that is the case, where do last year’s signings of Charlie Wyke, Grant Leadbitter and Will Grigg fit in? Would you say any of those look suited to a ‘Jack Ross side?’
What about Honeyman himself? Regardless of our opinions on him as a footballer or leader, Ross obviously viewed him as a crucial player in his system last year, and he was retained as captain for this campaign just a few weeks ago.
So, what has changed?
I’d love to know how much influence Ross actually has when it comes to the make-up of his squad. This isn’t to excuse him of blame but if he indeed has the final say, then he worries me more than ever.
As yet, I’m uncertain if the next series of ‘Sunderland Til I Die’ has been confirmed to hit our screens, but if so, it will be fascinating to see behind the scenes to indicate if this is the case. Again, my gut feeling says otherwise.
We are now in a position where the Transfer Window has closed for the sides in the two Leagues above us but still have a few weeks left to complete our own business.
For the sake of Jack Ross’s job and our chances of promotion this season, I believe we have to bring in two or three players in the next few weeks, even if loanees, to plug the gaps in our squad. If not, regardless of formations and systems, I can’t see anything other than a Season of failure again.
I’d love to know if ‘The Recruitment Team’ think the same, and have identified the players to fit the bill, or if their work is now done.
Time will tell
Ha’way The Lads