Chris Young’s match analysis: Chemistry experiment just not working for Sunderland

Jordi Gomez slots home Sunderland's penalty opener against West Ham
Jordi Gomez slots home Sunderland's penalty opener against West Ham
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TORE ANDRE Flo, Ally McCoist, David Kelly, Lee Chapman, Brett Angell.

All strikers who were prolific either before or after their spells at Sunderland; none of whom managed to get into double figures during their stints in red and white.

Some transfers just aren’t a happy marriage. Either on or off the pitch, the relationship simply doesn’t click.

Sometimes you have to accept that. However much both parties – plus supporters – are willing for the love affair to work, there is simply no chemistry.

It is perhaps nearing the time when Sunderland have to face an acrimonious split with Jozy Altidore and part ways in the January transfer window.

This just isn’t working.

One Premier League goal in 18 months for a striker so prolific on the international stage is a bitter testament to this relationship being on the rocks.

For all the public are willing Altidore on and responding to his efforts, for all he is popular in the dressing room, for all his enthusiasm shines through, strikers are judged on goals.

Sunderland’s style of play doesn’t help. Altidore is at his best when he’s got a ball down the channel to race onto, so he can get in behind, rather than playing with his back to goal.

But, I repeat, strikers are judged on goals.

Saturday’s horrifying miss just before half-time was not the first time we have seen such a sitter spurned in almost comical fashion by the American.

Yes, Seb Larsson’s pull-back was slightly behind him, but he almost looked as if he wasn’t expecting a cross and couldn’t readjust at all.

He was clearly devastated by it as he trooped off at the break. So, too, were his team mates.

Those kind of misses have big repercussions at this level and Altidore has been responsible for half a dozen or so now.

Publicly, head coach Gus Poyet claims Sunderland have not held any talks with Altidore’s camp, or any interested parties, over a January move.

But there will surely have been some hushed discussions, particularly as French side Lille continue to keep tabs on the 24-year-old, while Bundesliga outfit Werder Bremen were linked with a loan move yesterday.

Sunderland may not get back the £7million they invested in the summer of 2013, but they just might have to accept that.

A vacancy has to be made in the striking department for the frontman which Poyet is clearly hankering after in January.

With Altidore, Connor Wickham and Steven Fletcher on the books, that was decidedly tricky during the summer.

If Altidore departs though...

Sunderland badly need some pace in the final third, although some extra dynamism to go with the industry of Seb Larsson and Lee Cattermole in the middle of the park wouldn’t go amiss either.

For all Fletcher is an arch-predator and excellent with his back to goal, his game is not about getting in behind the opposition back line.

That leads to games where he is simply not a threat.

Wickham is turning into an attacking bully and was denied by a brilliant tip over from visiting goalkeeper Adrian on Saturday, but he doesn’t have that natural striker’s instinct of a Kevin Phillips or Darren Bent.

Sunderland need a striker who offers something a little bit different and takes the predictability out of their too-often stodgy build-up play.

But if that frontman can be recruited next month, what does Poyet do in the mean time to halt this tiresome run of draws?

He could move Wickham centrally and use the clearly clever Ricky Alvarez out wide.

But with both the on-loan Inter Milan midfielder and Adam Johnson in the side, there is that familiar worry about Wickham being left isolated in the penalty area.

Poyet may simply have to revert to Fletcher in the starting XI for the derby this coming weekend, with Altidore’s confidence smashed, even if the American did have his best game for Sunderland at St James’s Park last season.

Does Poyet have to take a gamble elsewhere in his line-up on Tyneside though?

Does he immediately restore fit-again Billy Jones to the fold?

As much as a lack of precision in the penalty area has been a factor in Sunderland’s draw habits, so, too, has the absence of their attack-minded full-backs.

In a 4-1-4-1 system, the full-backs are the pivotal players in adding width and getting in behind the opposition back-line.

Just look how well Carl Jenkinson and Aaron Cresswell did that for West Ham on Saturday, as their forward runs were persistently picked out by the crossfield passes of the superb Alex Song.

Santiago Vergini was far too sloppy with his distribution going forward for Sunderland, while, on the other side, left-back Anthony Reveillere just isn’t going to regularly overlap on his weaker foot.

If fit, Jones would immediately offer a greater attacking dimension.

The question is whether Poyet takes a gamble on his conditioning in the derby cauldron.

It could make all the difference in converting these string of draws into victories, with Sunderland proving to be consistently decent, yet unable to nick a winner.

It would have been harsh on West Ham to come away empty-handed after playing their part in a surprisingly entertaining, open encounter. Sam Allardyce’s side almost won it when Andy Carroll was a whisker away at the death too.

But, like so many of Sunderland’s draws this season, it was a game Poyet’s side could easily have edged.

They had the chances.

Referee Phil Dowd may have been slightly festive in awarding a spot-kick for James Tomkins’ nudge on Adam Johnson, but then he somehow missed Winston Reid almost catching Santiago Vergini’s cross.

And it took a magnificent tip over the bar from Adrian to keep out Wickham’s thunderbolt, when the 21-year-old looked poised to mark his new contract with a winner.

It was not to be.

The draws go on and on, with Poyet’s frustration evidently bubbling over.

It is almost better to be inconsistent in the Premier League than consistently coming away with a solitary point.

An 11th draw of the season at St James’s Park would far from be the worst outcome for Sunderland on Sunday, particularly as it would extend the unbeaten run against the Magpies to six games.

With the two fierce rivals both playing a counter-attacking style, the likeliest scenario is indeed that they cancel each other out.

But if Sunderland’s market trading next month can unearth the right fit, then the benefits could be huge.

SUNDERLAND: Pantilimon, Vergini, Reveillere, O’Shea, Brown, Cattermole, Larsson, Gomez, Johnson (Alvarez 70), Wickham, Altidore (Fletcher 62). Subs not used: Bridcutt, Rodwell, Coates, Buckley, Mannone. Booked: Gomez (57), Wickham (82)

WEST HAM: Adrian, Jenkinson, Cresswell, Reid, Tomkins, Kouyate, Song, Nolan (Valencia 81), Downing, Carroll, Sakho. Subs not used: Zarate, O’Brien, Collins, Amalfitano, Cole, Jaaskelainen. Booked: Reid (40), Downing (80)

Attendance: 41,694

Referee: Phil Dowd

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