ALS ROUNDTABLE #57



You know the score by now. We quiz some ALS scribes on current matters and see what their craic is…


So, we are in the MK Dons in between days. Did you enjoy the cup game and were you amused by the quadruple substitution?


DANIEL HUNTER:

Whilst the game won’t win any awards for its quality, it was a comfortable controlled display from the lads. We’re only one win away from Wembley and it will be the most Sunderland thing ever for us to win at Wembley whilst there’s no fans there. I’d even go as far to suggest we’ll win the Play Off Final with no one there as well. I’ve never seen a quadruple substitution before, the fourth official did well to get all the numbers up in less than five minutes, I’d have just gave up and told everyone to run on.

SOBS:

We won, so that’s always a reason to enjoy a game, and I liked the way we dealt with the playing surface, which didn’t cut up as badly as expected. There were obviously a few moments that had me on edge, but the defence looked better organised than against Gillingham, with Flan appearing to do the shouting. When we were looking as if we would have to hang on to a slender lead, we made that multiple swap, and that basically sealed it for us – in effect, we changed half of the team. Fresh legs, Leadbitter and McGeady’s experience, Wyke the man in form – it knocked the home side out of their stride and from then there was only one winner. Younger showed that we have enough cover in central defence, and Neil had a fine, energetic game in the middle. All of this bodes well for round two on Saturday, and it will be interesting to see what the pitch looks like then.


MICHAEL CONROY:

Did I enjoy the game? I have to confess I didn’t watch it. The Checkatrade train to Wembley last time was a bit of fun; a novelty if you like. Now it is a reminder of how far we have sunk. The fact that they have now called it the Papa John’s trophy somehow makes it even worse. It wasn’t out of principle though, I can’t hide behind that, I just couldn’t be arsed. As far as I was concerned I thought we would limp out and wouldn’t have been disappointed if we had in all honesty because it’s a distraction and it’s highly unlikely I’ll be able to drink cans in Trafalgar Square if we get there. Then I saw the score and I realised I’m a mardy sod and it was Sunderland and I missed a rare chance to celebrate. I can’t really comment on the quadruple substitution for this reason.


It’s too early to judge the new players brought in during the window, but do you feel those were the areas we needed to strengthen?


DANIEL HUNTER:

Definitely, we were desperate for a new striker and having watched some of Ross Stewart’s highlights its clear to see he will be a handful for defences. He looks extremely dangerous in the air and with the crossing ability of Jordan Jones I would expect to see them linking up a lot. From the 60 minutes Jones played its clear to see his ability, he is quick, direct and not afraid to run at defences. Vokins will be a welcome addition at the back, especially with the injuries to Hume and McFadzean.


SOBS:

Looking to strengthen the squad, a winger, a forward, a midfielder, and a full-back seem a sensible shopping list, and that’s what we got. We got to see Jones, who showed directness and confidence on the ball, and a proper winger is something we didn’t really have. Winchester has brought more experience “at this level” to the centre and is a player Johnson knows, and while we needed cover at left-back, we lack a specialist on the right and I’d have addressed that. Also, Southampton’s injury situation means that I wouldn’t be surprised if they recalled Vokins. Our glaringly obvious need, with Grigg and Graham not functioning and Kimpioka still recovering, was for a forward and in Stewart we got one. I’m looking forward to watching this lad.

MICHAEL CONROY:

It absolutely is too early to judge the new players, be that judgement good or bad. In terms of the areas then it's probably right, left back is an issue because of Hume's injury and McFadzean... well. It is possible that Flanagan could have deputised, but I always prefer a proper full back. I think Jones is predominantly a left winger which helps ease the pressure on McGeady in a front three so that again is a good thing because McGeady is getting on a bit now and has had a few injuries. I know nothing about Ross Stewart but with both Grigg and Graham departing, cover was needed up front. If Stewart can be anywhere near as prolific as Big Chas has been recently it's good business. Winchester doesn't strike me as the creative type in midfield yet and I still think that is an area we should have been looking at because it's often like trying to breach a castle wall with a spoon when teams come to the SoL.


Have the departures left is light at all?


DANIEL HUNTER:

Not in the slightest. Playing Graham and Grigg was like playing with ten men, or even nine men when they were both on the pitch together. I must admit I was surprised to see Elliott Embleton go out on loan; however, I think it is a good thing long term. Embleton would only be getting 20 mins here and there off the bench so getting regular first team football at Blackpool will help his development.


SOBS:

I don’t think that the departures haven’t left us light, as we’ve got replacements for those who’ve left. Most importantly, we got Stewart to replace Grigg and Graham. Obviously, that’s one in and two out, but the two out weren’t contributing goals, or anything really, which is the job of forwards, so it’s best all round that they left. I was a bit surprised by Embleton going, mind. He looks like he’s got his injuries behind him and offers a forward-thinking attitude in midfield, but the boss obviously rates him in the long term, hence the recent contract extension. Dobson’s performances this season haven’t been up to standard, and Winchester covers him. Feeney, well, we have cover and he’s proved to be far too fragile in his short career.

MICHAEL CONROY:

I was surprised to see Embleton go; I have to say. We are still well stocked in midfield though, especially with versatile players like O’Nien who seems to be capable of playing anywhere. Then there’s Power who can play in midfield and... well, midfield... sometimes. Up front is potentially an issue if we pick up injuries but if the sacrifice for that is to clear Grigg and Graham off the books then I think it’s a price worth paying. Both those players had an air of negativity to them, Grigg for obvious reasons but Graham too because he was just there with this albatross around his neck that he wasn’t going to score. That type of thing seeps into the bones of a team and getting rid of them feels like a weight has been lifted and green shoots are appearing on our ill maintained pitch.


Should we just choose one position for Luke O’Nien and stick to it? Or will he forever be a utility player. His energy in the middle with added pace from Gooch, Jones and Diamond gives us a totally different dimension.


DANIEL HUNTER:

Luke O’Nien was the best player on the pitch on Tuesday night in my opinion, he needs to be kept in midfield in order for the team to benefit. It was unfortunate that the injury to McFadzean forced O’Nein to drop back into defence. However, with Jake Vokins expected to start on Saturday I would expect and hope that Lee Johnson will have O’Nein back in the middle of the park.

SOBS:

O’Nien is stuck with being our utility man, and every side should have one, where would Liverpool be without James Milner? Personally, I’d have Luke in midfield because of his energy, from where he can link up from there with the speedier players like Gooch and Diamond – and possibly Jones – and give us extra forward impetus. Thankfully, we have enough cover there for him to fill in where necessary, and with McLaughlin injured and Power not a full-back, he could be asked to drop back into defence. Let’s face it, he’d play in goal if he was asked to. There are those who claim that he’s all enthusiasm and little actual football, but his attitude is infectious and if that lifts his team-mates it can only be a good thing. Also, opposing teams hate pests like Luke, he’s persistent, niggly, cheeky, and runs all day long. What’s not to dislike?


MICHAEL CONROY:

L09 is one of these conundrums for me. I’m still not sure what to do with him. His energy and attitude is brilliant and if you could put that into a vaccine and shoot it up the arm of every player we’d be out of this league in no time, but, and I say this knowing well that there will be those who disagree, he’s not all that good. I think my judgement on that is clouded because he hasn’t really settled into a position. If he had the right coach who concentrated on giving him the skills necessary for a particular role then maybe he would flourish. At the moment it seems like they’re saying “shit, we’ve got no centre halves…. Luke can play there”. I don’t think that’s fair on the player really so I would like to see us train him for a particular role. Utility players rarely shine and develop and he deserves to shine purely because of his attitude.