It seems so boring without a midweek game, so we gathered the clan early this week to deliver The ALS Roundtable…
Was the Lincoln game a disappointment to you, or were you relieved that we didn’t lose considering how fatigued we looked?
I’d say it was a bit disappointing considering the form Lincoln have been in recently, but we probably had a lucky escape not losing when we looked that tired. I think the draw has been made into more of a disappointment by the fact Hull and Peterborough failed to win. However, we should still see it as a bonus considering how The Posh and The Tigers were expected to win their games. Personally, I think we are still favourites to go up so hopefully the draw against Lincoln was only a tiny blip.
It’s so close at the top and we know that isn’t going to change. That means that every point missed feels annoying, especially when a win would have taken us into the top two. The reality is that it’s a decent result against a team that will finish in those top few positions. If we do miss out on automatic that won’t be the draw that cost us, it’ll be some of those early season draws. Of course, the other way of looking at it, is that a top four side who were back to very nearly full strength played us just as we were starting to look tired and we didn’t lose it.
If you give some people a bar of gold, they will complain that it’s too heavy. It would have been brilliant to get the three points against Lincoln as it would have seen us in the top two, I believe. However, looking at the match itself, they looked well equipped to hit us on the break. I was impressed by them, they looked very organised and well drilled. That may have been that we were leggy because of the recent run of fixtures, but we should really give them credit. They looked dangerous in the Papa John’s semi final as well. Burge pulled off a cracking save and a few months ago we’ve lost that game and we would be calling the whole thing off. If there is any negative reaction then I suppose it probably comes from the memory of the Jack Ross season where a succession of 1-1 draws saw us lose our grip. I’m not saying we won’t rue the two points miss but there is definitely something different about this draw that doesn’t put it in that category. There’s certainly no need to panic at the moment and our draw was definitely a better result than our two rivals for the top spots.
We looked vulnerable at the back against Lincoln. Should we now cut our loses and move Luke O’Nien out of central defence, or play three central defenders? McLaughlin, Sanderson and LON?
I’d keep it how it is until Bailey Wright comes back from injury. I know we looked vulnerable at the back against Lincoln and O’Nien was poor for the goal, but it’s one of the few mistakes he’s made this season. In the games previous O’Nien has excelled alongside Sanderson so changing it after one mistake would seem harsh. Most of the players look fatigued on Saturday so having midweek off will do everyone the world of good and I hope Lee Johnson starts O’Nien and Sanderson at centre half again on Saturday.
I’ve wanted to play three at the back for quite a while. And I think Hume and McLaughlin are ideal attacking wing backs. If Wright is fit, I’d play him with Sanderson and O’Nien. Or McLaughlin in the middle with Power at right wing back. If it is to be a back four with McLaughlin and O’Nien in it I think I’d play O’Nien at right back and move the others across. But, for the first time in a long time I can honestly say I trust the backroom team to do the best with what they’ve got so whatever they send out, I’m confident they’ll do the job they’ve been given.
Now before I say that I don’t like us with a back four I have to acknowledge that we have just emerged from a spell where the defence have massively limited opposition attackers in terms of chances. Luke O’Nien was man of the match at Wembley and his performances have shut up a lot of the “He’s a midfielder though” brigade, of which I am a fully paid-up member. The difficulty comes when you meet a team like Lincoln who are adept at hitting you on the break. The defence ends up overrun and we could easily say we were fortunate to escape with a point against them. I think a lot depends on how close Hume is to coming back to full fitness. McFadzean has looked better, but Hume as an attacking wing back offers a lot more. It may well be that Power is more comfortable as a wing back than he has been at right back in a four and it could actually suit him. In answer to the question of whether we should switch to three at the back my answer is a definite yes though. We have looked a little exposed at times as a back four and if we had played better teams we probably would have been caught out. That doesn’t take anything away from those who have played in that system, but the system itself doesn’t lend itself to square pegs in round holes.
We’ve been exorcising our demons this season. Is it time to put Joey Barton to the sword this weekend?
100%. We’ve shown this season that bogey teams and winless records are a thing of the past. There are only two hoodoos left to break this season, the first being defeating a Joey Barton side and the second being beating Blackpool at home for the first time since 1977. The recent performances at Fratton Park and Wembley, where we’ve had previously no joy, have shown we are more than capable of breaking unwanted records this season and I have full faith we’ll get three points on Saturday. It will also be nice for Lee Johnson to get a win against his old side’s local rivals, as he never got the chance to face Bristol Rovers whilst manager at Bristol City.
It would be quite nice to finish the season by exorcizing the biggest of all demons which is being in this division. And it would be really good NOT to exorcise the play off demon to achieve that. I’d love to add Charlton and Barton to the story but, for me, it’s eleven games, from which I think we need eight wins and maybe a draw or two. I’d like to get that down to seven wins needed ASAP. That means beating Bristol Rovers, whoever the manager is. It’s a big game for our manager too of course with his links to the city.
Joey who? This match is not about Joey Barton, much as he would like it to be. Far too often in the past he has played his mind games in the build up and got under all of our skins. I dislike him. I think he’s actually a decent manager, but I dislike him. Of course I would like to beat him to annoy him but there is a far bigger prize at stake. We cannot let this game be dragged into the Sunderland v Barton arena. We know what his set up will be, he will aim to frustrate and to shut us out. We know he will be instructing his team to dawdle over everything from running on to the pitch to walking off as a sub. There will be lots of injuries that require lengthy treatment. There will be niggly fouls that go unpunished. Barton will try to get Sunderland to play by his rules, the lads need to forget that and just play their game. If they do that they should be able to brush Bristol Rovers aside. Barton can pipe up about whatever he likes after that, we’ll take the points home and move on to the next game, job done.