David Preece: This is how Sunderland make 3-4-1-2 work and why I'm staggered by Jack Ross criticism

No waffle this week. I’m cutting right to the chase. After one game of the season, are we really discussing the future of Jack Ross? I’m hearing it and I’m reading it, but I can’t quite believe it.

Thursday, 8th August 2019, 11:45 am
Sunderland left-back Denver Hume in action against Oxford United.

Nobody is immune from questioning or scrutiny, of course not. Another home draw isn’t the way to kick off a promotion campaign but the first game of the season isn’t a day to draw final judgements. You only have to look at results up and down the EFL to realize that.

There’s a belief that if you are going to play against the big guns of the league it’s best to get them in the first few games and we are the Schwerer Gustav Dora Gun of League 1. So lets take that into consideration too.

As the manager said so himself, this performance was not one that will win you titles, it wasn’t exactly a poor one either. What it is, is a starting point for improvements to be made.

I know there have been some question marks over the 3-4-1-2 system used by Jack but we shouldn’t get hung up on formations. During the game they become loose frameworks that fluidly change depending on the situations in and out of possession.

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It’s more about how the players within it perform and it felt as if they were playing with the scoreline in mind rather than the execution of the process.

The first 20 minutes could be forgiven. Long balls being played to stretch the game before settling in to the space that creates, I get. It was frantic stuff, lots of transitions and a goal given away sloppily that began from a throw in ramps up the tension, but after that the chance to play was on.

Frustratingly there were still too many long balls played towards a defence that wasn’t offering any space behind them but by dropping low the opportunity to play into Grigg, McNulty and Embleton was there.

This is where the ability on the ball of those playing in that back three is vital to how I assume Sunderland want to play.

Jamie Mackie will always work tirelessly but he often found himself needlessly triple-tagged when the ball came up to him. Defensively, that’s fine and the self-inflicted wound of the goal apart, it worked.

What was needed with the ball was both lateral defenders to step in to midfield with the ball and also to press Tariqe Fosu when he drifted forward between the lines of Sunderland’s defence and midfield.

I’ve not seen enough of Jordan Willis and Conor McLaughlin yet but I liked the way Willis tried to thread balls though the lines as it’s important that their distribution is good, especially those laterals of Flanagan and McLaughlin.

It just felt a little forced at times. Especially at home when teams will sit low and look to counter on you, the key is to enjoy having the ball and moving it to disrupt their shape enough so gaps open.

There were times when we broke quickly and fed Embleton early to turn and run forward from central but for most parts going wide down one side and persisting until the chance to cross the ball seemed too desperate, resulting in poor quality.

35 crosses might be used to as an indication of dominance but some of those should have been sacrificed to probe more from side to side and create better positions to finish from.

A lack of ruthlessness was cited as a failing on Saturday but it’s difficult to be ruthless without creating clear cut chances. That’s something that will come with more quality and patient in possession and a little less eagerness to please prematurely.