So after a week where we managed one point from six, it’s fair to say that everyone at ALS was in the huff. Nevertheless we assembled our squad, which probably costs more than Sunderland’s, for this week’s Roundtable…
Can you think of any fathomable reason why LJ would drop Lee Burge and replace him with Remi Matthews?
No, unless Burge gave Johnson a shit tip for the horses at the weekend. Burge has his flaws, but he is miles better than Matthews. Time and time again this season Matthews has fluffed his lines, he gave away an extremely soft goal at home to Burton, amongst other mistakes, yet still gets a game in the cups. Currently he is making Lee Camp only look shite rather than extremely shite and that is saying something.
I couldn’t see any reason for dropping Burge. Let’s be honest, neither he nor Matthews is ever going to be Monty or even Poom, but to me Burge is comfortably the better of the two. Lee Johnson has said that the goalkeeper is “a spiritual leader in terms of their presence and psychology” so why disrupt that? Perhaps he was trying to give Matthews a chance to develop his presence, but it clearly didn’t work. Ironically, while acknowledging that Matthews had “made a couple of mistakes but has held his hand up.” If only he’d done that at Shrewsbury, at least we can count on him to drop himself as well as the ball. Successful teams have a solid and consistent defence, both physic ally and in terms of personnel –defenders need to know what the man behind them is going to do, and whether he stays on his line or likes to charge off it, whether he prefers to roll it out or hoof it to Big Chas. Chopping and changing the keeper doesn’t help the defence build a mutual understanding. If the reality is that Johnson doesn’t fancy Burge but doesn’t want to say so publicly, perhaps Tuesday was the chance to give young Patterson a try.
Perhaps he thought that playing Matthews would be a risk worth taking, as the last time Burge was dropped he came back and performed well for a few games, like Keane tried to do with Craig Gordon and Darren Ward. Evidently though, it wasn’t worth the risk, even if Burge does come back in and look more solid. I’m completely baffled as to how Patterson isn’t closer to the first team picture.
I am struggling to find any reason whatsoever why Matthews played. I know Burge is a bit frightening between the sticks too, but that was an accident waiting to happen. Matthews has been suspect, to put it politely, in every single game he has played. Every time I come up with a reason the other side of my brain says “but…” For example, maybe he was letting the watching KLD see just how bad things are... but the window is shut. It’s also a ridiculous gamble. If there’s one position you don’t throw away it’s goalkeeper. It all builds from there. The confidence of the entire team starts in goal. A confident defence frees up a confident midfield who feed confident strikers. That defence will not be confident if the keeper is awful. Just re watch the first goal Shrewsbury scored and look at the look Bailey Wright gives Matthews. On the other hand, what if he plays well, your gamble leaves you stuck with him. The second thing he has done is basically end Matthews career at Sunderland, I just don’t think he can come back from this.
We seem like a soft touch defensively at the moment. Have we gone from being too defensive under Parkinson, to too attacking under LJ?
Under Parkinson we looked scared to attack and whilst it’s refreshing to see us pile men forward under Johnson his 4-2-2-2 formation is leaving us vulnerable. Leadbitter doesn’t have the legs to play in a midfield two and both MK Dons and Shrewsbury have exposed this. It means Johnson either has to switch formations or play someone younger in the midfield two. Luke O’Nien is the perfect candidate for the position, he is energetic and can drive forward but can also cope with getting back and is solid defensively. I hope in the coming weeks Johnson realises this and gives O’Nien a regular starting spot.
After basing our game almost solely on defence under Parky, with the emphasis on trying not to lose rather than trying to win, we seem to have gone to the other extreme, effectively playing a 4-2-4 formation. This is all very well if you’ve got Summerbee, Johnson, Quinn, and Phillips, but we haven’t, and while Wyke’s goals contribution has been very good, he’s pretty much out on his own in the scoring charts. If we’re going to stick with this current open style, we simply need to score more goals. Perhaps Stewart will provide them. Also, trying to play it out of defence with only two centre backs means that the opposition can chase them down and draw the two central midfielders into deeper positions than they should be. Add to that our lack of a right back, and that we keep breaking defenders. Hume, McFadzean, Willis (several times), McLaughlin, Feeney, and Xhemaji have all suffered serious injuries, the last two not even completing their debuts, forcing O’Nien and Power to fill in, and that’s far from perfect. Are our medical people not checking potential signings for structural weaknesses, or not looking after them when they arrive?
I think it’s to do with the team going to a back four, after having had a year and a full pre-season of training with a back three/five. The chopping and changing of the back four (a lot of which has been enforced due to injury to be fair) can’t have helped either. Whatever the reason though, it’s not like we’ve been sensational going forward in most of the past few games. Whilst Parky might have been overly cautious and pragmatic, at least our defensive record was generally quite good. In order to be a team that can attack but look a bit dodgy defensively and still get results, you really have to be able to create lots of chances and have long spells of pressure as well as a clear style of play which gets the most out of our attacking players. Apart from spells against MK Dons last Saturday, we haven’t seen that in the last few league games.
Dare I say see my answer to the Burge question? I honestly believe the defence cannot trust their keepers and that is a huge part of it. The other side is the shape. During the course of a game you will see Power drifting out of position all the time. You then look at the centre halves and the gap between them is massive. At any given time there seems massive uncertainty around where each defender should be. You cannot organise your defence like that and opposition will spot that and exploit it. We were lucky not to concede more in both of our last two games and it’s a huge worry. Finally, the midfield is contributing to the goals conceded. We seem far too narrow in the middle which gives teams room to exploit when they’re attacking and it pulls fullbacks forward when we’re countering. If we lose the ball in that position it’s even more open.
Whoever plays full back seems to struggle. Is this because they are not good enough, or our wide defensive areas being targeted by the opposition because the wingers are not tracking back?
They’re not good enough. Jake Vokins is lively going forward but defensively he is a weak link. I know he has only played two games, but he is miles off the place and was at fault for Shrewsbury’s second on Tuesday. He gave Harry Champan far too much space and allowed him in behind to score Shrewsbury’s second. Callum McFadzean did the same against Gillingham a few weeks ago and Lee Johnson needs to address this defensive fragility in training.
Our full-backs have been having a fairly torrid time, partly because Power isn’t one, Hume and McFadzean are attack-minded but don’t have the defensive abilities to back that up, and Vokins is still finding his feet. Hume has the speed of Micky Gray, but not the regular partner as yet, perhaps the new Johnson could replicate Micky’s marra? He was also improving the defensive game when injury struck, and McFadzean, while a bit more accurate with his delivery going forward, is suspect positionally at the back. As for assistance from the wide midfielders, careful analysis reveals that McGeady actually does a fair amount of tracking back, although neither flank has yet developed any real partnerships as personnel change regularly – Gooch, McGeady, Diamond, Johnson, and O’Brien have all featured in wide positions. Opposing coaches know their business and will be saying “that one’s not a right back by trade, and the other one lets you get your crosses in” and his players will respond accordingly. It’s what I’d expect our gaffer and players to do.
The full backs seem as though they have been told to defend narrowly, as it’s not always the same players making the mistakes, Vokins for Shrewsbury’s goal epitomises this. If this is the case then it’s ultimately the manager’s problem, which he needs to fix by either changing the formation to give the full backs more support out wide or tell the full backs to push wider. As Danny Collins has mentioned on the past couple of streams however, even if we are conceding chances, we need to be more solid in terms hanging in there when the opposition have a spell of pressure, instead of always conceding a goal whenever this happens. This comes down to the lack of a good, commanding goal-keeper, who is able to give his centre backs confidence when coming out of his goal.
I don’t think Power is a full back, no matter how much they try and talk it up. He doesn’t have the positional discipline, nor does he seem to have the defensive awareness you need in that position. Going forward I don’t think he’s a marauding type which means he often slows the play down. So that explains one issue. O’Nien is better in that position, but then he’s not a full back and are you just putting another square peg in a round hole? I know there’s a requirement for rotation, but in all honesty in my years of watching Sunderland the best full backs were proper full backs who were consistent names on the team sheet. There has been too much chopping and changing in these positions. A settled back four is imperative for that confidence. The formation relies on good full back play, if you keep changing those positions then you’re always going to see problems.