George Dobson reveals his honest view on Sunderland's attacking woes - and has a confident message for fans
George Dobson is confident that Sunderland are close to finding the right formula in the final third – after their attacking woes continued at Oxford United.
While the Black Cats were on the scoresheet at the Kassam Stadium courtesy of Marc McNulty’s instinctive finish, they were guilty of missing a number of fine chances throughout the evening.
It was a similar story at Shrewsbury, with Sunderland fans quickly becoming concerned as a lack of cutting edge becomes apparent.
Dobson, though, remains assured that things will ‘click’ soon.
Indeed, it was only just over a week ago that Phil Parkinson’s side put Tranmere to the sword at the Stadium of Light, netting five as they looked to have turned a corner.
But since then, Sunderland have found the net just once in their two trips away from Wearside.
The Tranmere display now needs to act as a benchmark and, should Sunderland reach those standards, Dobson believes more positive results are inevitable.
"It is just fine margins,” he said.
“If you look at the game on Saturday, we hit the post three times, we hit the bar. If they're one yard either side, then you could win the game four or five-nil.
“We had plenty of chances in the second half [at Oxford] to win the game. It is just turning those performances into...you'd rather play bad and win.
“But the positive signs are there, the performances are there and if we keep plugging away then I'm sure the results will turn a lot more positive, especially now we're out the cup.
“We've got tremendous players who can score a lot of goals, as you saw against Tranmere, so it will click. It's very close to clicking and I'm sure Saturday, hopefully, we can kick-start putting a run together.”
Goals may have proved hard to come by in recent weeks, but Dobson is keen to point to Sunderland’s much-improved performances.
Against a strong Oxford United side, the Black Cats created the better chances and were deprived of a late penalty when Luke O’Nien was tripped in the box.
Both managers felt referee Stephen Martin should have pointed to the spot and while Dobson agrees, he’s keen to take the positives from another ‘consistent’ display.
“It's obviously a tough pill to swallow.
“I thought the second half especially we were really good and created a lot of chances, like on Saturday.
“I think the last three games are probably the three, in a way, best performances we've put in on a consistent basis. But we're just not...the end product. We're not scoring and at the end of the day you need to score the goals to win the games.
“Of course, it's a penalty at the end but you can't look back on those things because in football you don't get decisions.”
While that end product proved elusive at Oxford, Sunderland’s attacking intent – particularly in the second half, following a change in shape – could not be doubted.
As the game ticked into its final minutes it was the Black Cats doing all the pressing as they committed a number of men forward, showing no signs of tiredness despite a hectic fixture schedule.
And although that desire didn’t culminate in a late winner at Oxford, Dobson is confident Sunderland will reap the rewards of their conditioning work in the coming weeks.
"That's the thing, we're a fit team,” he admitted.
“If you see the last 15, 20 minutes of a game, we're always the fitter team.
“I think it'll come to a point where we get one late goal and then we'll start getting a few late goals. We just need one as a catalyst.”
And while late goals would prove a help, so too would early ones.
Sunderland have seen countless examples of teams netting first and sitting back during their time in League One – and ensuring they score the opener is becoming increasingly important for Parkinson’s side.
“We're creating the same amount of chances [as Tranmere], but a big difference is when you score the first goal,” admitted Dobson.
“Teams’ game plans change, and they come out, and that's when it does become easier to get the second.
“But it just seems as if every time a team has a shot against us they score.
“We've just got to keep plugging away at it, keeping doing what we're doing and hopefully start getting the first goal in games more regularly and start putting teams to the sword.”
Sunderland will be hoping to do that when Southend United – now managed by Sol Campbell – visit the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
Campbell, who was in the stands at Oxford, saw his side heavily beaten by Ipswich in his first game in charge, and Dobson believes the game is now a ‘must-win’ for the Black Cats.
“It's tough one to take, but Saturday is a must-win.
“We've got to recover, get back up north and make sure come Saturday we're ready to put in another good performance, but hopefully like Tranmere where we get the goals to go with it.”