Tony Gillan: Why are certain players at Sunderland if they aren't even considered worthy of coming off the bench against Stoke City?

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.

Tuesday, 17th January 2017, 11:43 pm
Updated Wednesday, 18th January 2017, 1:01 am
David Moyes

There’s no need to sit too comfortably because we’re beginning with the positives from Saturday; so it won’t take long.

The final score was not as embarrassing as was feared when Stoke went three up after 34 minutes.

Of Sunderland’s 11 we can exonerate Jermain Defoe, who did what he could with what we shall politely refer to as limited service. Seb Larsson at least showed some will and professional pride when other heads dropped.

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But man-of-the-match goes to any Sunderland supporter who stayed until the final whistle.

I don’t suppose many of them will have had their mood significantly altered by last night’s result at Turf Moor. Rarely have Sunderland fans been less interested in the FA Cup. A cup run is all very jolly, but...

Space considerations prevent a composite list of the negatives, so we shall confine ourselves to one.

This column mused last week on the oddball and distinctly unhelpful use of substitutes by Sunderland this season.

We specifically referred to the decision to bring on an extra defender in a home cup tie to secure last night’s delights at Burnley.

Usually when Sunderland are trailing they will do something like lob their third choice right-back into the midfield; then wonder why they don’t threaten much.

Against Stoke would there, yet again, be an unfathomable use of subs? Of course not. Against Stoke there was an unfathomable non-use of subs.

I’m not even going to pretend that it gives me no satisfaction to say “I told you so.”

When you watch a game like Saturday’s you start to feel as though saying “I told you so” is one of life’s few remaining pleasures. So here goes.

I told you so.

When a side is losing for all but the first 15 minutes of a game, common procedure is to change things around at some stage. So what was the reason for not making a single change on Saturday?

David Moyes said: “We were trying to score goals and I didn’t really feel that I had the players on the bench any more capable than Fabio Borini, Jermain Defoe or Adnan Januzaj.

“We don’t really have anything to change it around. I felt the best attacking players were on the pitch already.”

This raises several issues. As Moyes mentioned him, let us look at Fabio Borini. I like Borini. He always applies himself and has presented Sunderland fans with some glorious moments.

But every footballer on earth plays badly at times and against Stoke City, Borini was ruddy awful. It is difficult therefore to imagine that any of the attackers on the bench would have retarded Sunderland’s chances of scoring even further.

At least lobbing on the third choice right-back into the midfield would have provided a fresh pair of legs.

Some feel that Moyes was sending a signal to Ellis Short; effectively saying that he hasn’t got any substitutes to use.

I don’t think so. Neither Moyes nor Short are idiots and are acutely aware that the squad is at its most threadbare in years. No one needed a reminder.

But it could be that the manager is sending out a message for more general consumption; namely that his isn’t to blame because all he has in reserve is a subs bench that resembles a kindergarten.

I hope that is not what Moyes was doing, because the acquisition of a point against Stoke was of far more importance than anyone’s CV.

Another issue raised by the non-substitutions is even more uncomfortable.

Recent history tells us not to excite ourselves about emerging talent at Sunderland. Between Jordan Pickford now and Jordan Henderson eight years ago there isn’t much to boast about.

It would have been wildly optimistic to expect Joel Asoro to have transformed the game with 20 minutes off the bench. But with things as desperate as they were on Saturday, shouldn’t this at least have been tried?

The awkward question is: why are certain players even at the club if they aren’t considered worthy of use in circumstances such as those against Stoke?

Asoro is only 17. But another of Saturday’s unused subs, George Honeyman, is 22. He was born in 1994, the same year as Pickford, N’Dong, Watmore, Love and Manquillo. Januzaj, McNair, Gooch and Denayer were born in 1995.

It is unpleasant and harsh. But really, is it in anyone’s interest for Honeyman to be on the wage bill if he is quite obviously rarely if ever going to play? It would be wonderful to see him prove people wrong, but this seems increasingly unlikely despite his FA Cup start last night and he won’t be a unique case.

Cheery stuff then. At least we can look forward to more zany, substitute-related fun at West Bromwich Albion this weekend.