ALS ROUNDTABLE #53



After the shit show against Plymouth we must bounce back with a good performance and a comprehensive win against Shrewsbury… Here’s this week’s round table…


How shit was Plymouth? We can blame the pitch, the weather, injuries, but ultimately, we played badly and lost? Fair?


GARY BURRELL: Appalling. All of the above are factors as to why we played badly, but none can be blamed as such. It’s cliched but it’s the same for both sides after all. What really concerned me was for all Lee Johnson talks of data, philosophies and patterns of play, there seemed to be no plan at all in the pitch. Players knocking it around at the back then lumping it forward to a non-existent Charlie Wyke. Our goal was really well-worked and well-executed, but otherwise it was an incoherent mess for the majority of the game. Plenty of possession with no threat, and how many times have we seen that? I’m certainly not criticising the Manager already, but questions need to be asked whether the players are taking much of his ‘philosophy’ onboard, as there is little evidence to suggest it so far, especially at home where the opposition tends to sit deep and are more compact. It’s a real concern.

SOBS: At the risk of stating the obvious, the Plymouth game was terrible. While Lee Johnson expressed his dismay that some players hadn’t looked like they were buying into his philosophy and would be on their bike faster than you could say their name, Tuesday’s failings looked a lot simpler than that. I don’t think allowing two goal-creating crosses in from the same area is anything to do with philosophy, and while you could argue that it could have been Hume and not McFadzean’s job to stop them, the defensive side of young Denver’s game had only recently improved before his injury. We were also without McLaughlin, and Sanderson didn’t look all that comfortable at right back, but the opposition wasn’t really looking any great shakes before they scored (or after, come to that). Losing Willis early on didn’t help either, and neither did the state of the pitch, but that was the same for both sides. I appreciate that it’s difficult to play the zippy, fast-flowing game when the ball sticks to the grass or shoots off it depending on what area of the field it happens to land in, but we should have been able to adapt to the conditions. With Charlie Wyke having been in the headlines after Wimbledon, the opposition decided that he was the main threat and doubled up on him for long periods. This should have left gaps for us to exploit, but that didn’t happen, and we struggled to settle into a pattern of play. In short, it was the same for the opposition and they kept it simple, a lesson we should heed.


GILES MOONEY: Plymouth was gutting. One step forwards and then straight back again. It summed up where we are in a lot of ways, even the pitch has started to feel a bit League One. The positive is that Lee Johnson seems to know where he’s trying to get to and is confident enough to say what he wants and when he wants it. I expect he’s telling people what he wants in terms of players as clearly as his message about the pitches. And did you notice? Not just the stadium pitch but all club pitches. You can’t blame the pitch as both teams played on the same one. But I don’t think he was, I think he was saying that for what he wants to achieve the set up isn’t up to scratch. Who can disagree with that?!


MICHAEL CONROY: Unsurprisingly shit. There was nothing new in that performance really so in some ways it’s surprising that the result has unleashed so much negativity. I think it’s down to the fact that we think we’re turning a corner and then get smacked in the face by an abject reminder of how mundane and useless we can be. Proper lockdown football, you think you’re about to come out the other end and then you’re in a national lockdown again. Reading Johnson’s comments after the match was very interesting though as he openly criticised the lack of investment in the playing and training pitches. That may have been an excuse, but I think that is the first time I have heard an SAFC manager (or is he a head coach?) openly criticise a lack of spending in key areas for a long time. Overall, I don’t actually think we played that badly, but it was the same old story. A loss of concentration at the back and a lack of an ability to put the ball in the net up front. The rest of it was fairly dominant without actually achieving anything. It was absolute dirge to watch but it’s nothing new.


DANIEL HUNTER: Extremely shit. Yes, the pitch was poor, but it was the same for both sides and Plymouth still managed to create chances and win the game. Injuries didn’t help the cause either, but we still should have a team that’s capable of winning those games. Plymouth hadn’t won for 11 games away from home in the league and we let them to come to the SOL and dictate the game. Most sides treat coming to the Stadium like a Cup Final and Sunderland give them no indication that they’re in for a tough 90 minutes. The performance against Plymouth was poor and it was probably karma for the game against Wimbledon where we played some dreadful football but still managed to come away with three points.


Does this make Shrewsbury a must win?


GARY BURRELL: Absolutely. But I would be more confident if it was an away fixture. Regardless of the fact the SoL pitch resembles a farmer’s field, we just can’t click at all at home this season.

SOBS: Shrewsbury is a must-win, just like every other game since Christmas, and I fear that it might be a little late even for a win to make the necessary difference to our season. It’s becoming more obvious by the week that we’re little more than an average League One side which produces occasional flashes of something better. That might well be true of the entire top half of the division, I don’t know, I’ve not seen any other team more than twice, but loosing as many home games as we have usually precludes any hope of promotion.


GILES MOONEY: Every game is a must win at the moment, either because they’re teams that are near the bottom who should present us the easy 3 points or because they’re 6 pointers against play-off contenders.


MICHAEL CONROY: After the Plymouth game I am past caring really. This season is written off as far as I’m concerned. I say that, but if we hammer Shrewsbury, I’ll be full of optimism again. In that sense Shrewsbury is a must win game. Across social media you could see so many deflated supporters, die hards saying they were done with it. Lose to or draw with Shrewsbury and that malaise will spread.


DANIEL HUNTER: Every game is a must win game from now until the end of the season. If we have any intentions of getting out of this division then we need to start winning games. Shrewsbury won’t be a walk in the park either, before the end of the 2020 they beat Hull, Lincoln and Doncaster away from home. Clearly, they have no fear of the big teams and will come to Sunderland raring to go having only played once in 2021. Sunderland need to take the game by the scruff of the neck and show Shrewsbury zero respect otherwise it will be back to back home defeats.


Are we really just an average League One team with outside hopes of scraping into the play offs? Or is there any hope? Could the manager settle in, have a good window and find a winning formula?

GARY BURRELL: I think we can forget about a ‘good‘ window. Good to me would be replacing at least half a dozen of our first team squad with athletes with the not-so-secret formula - Pace and Power - but I’d expect a maximum of two players to arrive, a left back and possibly a striker. And going off the signing of Winchester, I’d say we’ll be looking at slight tweaks rather than wholesale changes. I suppose we are an average League One team at present but the saving grace this season is the quality of the opposition. We’ve been absolutely dreadful yet sit just outside of the play-offs. We’ve comfortably beaten the then league leaders and there’s nothing to be concerned about in this league other than ourselves. Should Johnson find an effective system to break down visitors to the Stadium of Light, then we can still make the Play-Offs. It’s looking like a formidable challenge but by no means impossible at this stage.


SOBS: At least one of the teams that performs like that tends to sneak into the play-offs, and I expect this season to be no different. That means that we’re still in with a chance, albeit a chance that gets slimmer with every passing defeat or draw. Having said that, perhaps if the last days of the transfer window bring us a few players that set things alight and carry us along in a great run of form. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. I honestly think that such a sea-change is unlikely, but I desperately hope to be proved wrong and with the league somehow still quite open, perhaps I will.


GILES MOONEY: I stand by the fact we’re a Premier League club currently in the wrong place. I’ve no doubt we’ve Premier League quality fans but, after that, the club needs to show the world that we’re Premier League in every aspect of what we do, from pitches to players, catering to community work. As far as where we are on the pitch, I think the league is poor enough that everything is still possible but, without sensible recruitment in the next couple of weeks and an acceptance of the Johnson plan by the current players (many of whom are trying to earn contracts), we’re looking at 5th or 6th. It’s up to the players, we can’t be the 12th man so it’s all down to the 11. Anything is possible, but I think realistically a run of wins is what’s needed now.


MICHAEL CONROY: In footballing terms we are an average League One side. It’s horrible to say that to really admit it, but it’s true. Obviously, everything else is set up for being anything but a League One team but the significant lack of investment across all levels of the club have now left us in this position. I worry about where this leaves us with a salary cap in place. I don’t know how you turn this around when your spending capacity is so severely hampered whilst a team relegated from the Championship can continue to pay above the salary cap for players already under contract. It’s an absolute nonsense and is anti-competition. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a salary cap, it makes perfect sense for the security of football clubs at the lower levels, but how you can have a salary cap that only affects two leagues is beyond me. We do have outside hopes of making the play offs of course and if Johnson has a good window to bring in the type of players to fit his ideas then yes, there is still hope. Whether he will be allowed the funding or the space to do that is a bigger question.


DANIEL HUNTER: There is still some hope, I think. Lee Johnson is a young, determined manager with the ability to get us out of this division. However, the winning formula is going to have to come from the players he has already got. With the ridiculous wage cap in place, I can’t see us signing anyone of quality. The squad we have at the minute isn’t good enough, so I think promotion is going to be an extremely tough ask, however stranger things have happened. We are still in play-off contention, but we can’t afford to lose many more games.