Despite some great results in recent weeks, a tendency has developed for us being exposed down our left-hand side. With options very limited due to our injury crisis, let’s take a look at the current potential options…
After being signed to be back-up for Denver Hume as a wing-back (given that Phil Parkinson was very persistent with playing that system), the twenty-seven-year-old has played more minutes than initially expected on Wearside. It goes without saying that the ex-Plymouth Argyle player has failed to impress thus far. Allowing Chris Porter goal side for Crewe's opening goal on Saturday before failing to block Mikael Mandron's cross for the second only added to his record of costly defensive mistakes. Whilst many may argue he is more suited as a wing-back as he relies on finding himself further up the pitch to add value to a side, the Sheffield United academy graduate gave the ball away no less than twenty-five times against Crewe Alexandra, as well as failing to make a single successful dribble, key pass or cross. Failing to provide effective defensive cover or offer much going forward, a smart decision may be to look elsewhere and don’t get me started on that throw in…
Despite failing to impress in his three league starts, the twenty-year-old has not shown his full potential yet. Having now spent over a month under Lee Johnson, the England u19 international may be more settled in the squad to the point where some potential initial nerves have been eased, allowing him to express himself a little more. Having already started twice in the Premier League for Southampton, it's possible his disappointing start to his time at Sunderland was just a blip. After being taken out of the limelight and given time to settle in, it's possible that some improvement may be seen in the loanee once given another shot in the first team. Whilst we haven’t seen promising signs so far, a second chance may be all he needs and has got to be worth a try.
Potentially an unorthodox option, Lynden Gooch already has experience as a wing-back. Whilst it’s clear the 25-year-old is not a defensive-minded player, the cover currently being provided by our left side isn’t particularly strong anyway. Where the USA international may be able to make a positive influence, however, is offensively. Whilst McFadzean is failing to impress both defensively and going forward, Gooch may be able to become a positive outlet for building attacks, being less prone to losing possession cheaply, as well as being more creative. Given the competition in forward areas (with the form of Aiden McGeady, and the likes of Jordan Jones and Chris Maguire fighting for a chance in the team) the academy graduate may be able to solidify his starting place as a wing-back, providing plenty of energy and an attacking outlet down the left-hand side, despite not being a proven defender. Whilst we could still be prone to being exposed down the left, using Gooch as a left wing-back makes the option of attacking down that side a more viable option and could, at the very least, avoid the scenario that seemed to unfold at home to Swindon, where a lot of the game-plan seemed to revolve around keeping the ball away from our left-hand side, meaning our only real attacking outlet was down the right. With us having limited attacking outlets, opposition teams are able to defend a lot easier and predict passages of play but by having the option to attack down either flank, preparing to defend against us becomes a lot harder and we become more unpredictable. Additionally, through only attacking down the right, Aiden McGeady’s time on the ball is limited. Given a lot of our goals have recently came from the Republic of Ireland international, avoiding attacks down the left could also be very costly to our goal tally.
Once we see the return of Tom Flanagan, the possibility of shifting Luke O’Nien or Dion Sanderson into left-back becomes an option, as well playing Flanagan there himself. Until then, however, persisting with McFadzean doesn’t appear to be a wise decision. Should we continue with a back three, Lynden Gooch is surely someone who can offer us more than McFadzean, given he can’t be any worse defensively and can provide an attacking outlet, at the very least. Despite being cup-tied for the Wembley final, bringing Jake Vokins back into the fold has got to be worth a shot. Whilst, of course, there is a possibility we won’t see any improvement in him, there is no way of knowing if we’ve seen all he can offer without giving Vokins a second chance.
For me, the option of Gooch appears to be the most viable option. With previous experience in the role and an ability to add something going forward, we can, at the very least, attack down either flank. Having said that, I’d be very disappointed if Jake Vokins wasn’t given another few games before we write him off entirely.