Dylan McGeouch opens up on his Sunderland ambitions and why he can be a key player this season
Sunderland’s first game of the season was one ultimately defined by frustration.
There was, though, a definite positive in the middle of the park.
Last season, injuries prevented Dylan McGeouch from producing the kind of form that saw him make such an impression in pre-season.
There were some excellent displays, particularly away at Accrington Stanley, but also a number of long breaks from the starting XI.
At the beginning of the summer, an exit seemed not just possible but perhaps likely.
To get the nod on the opening day was therefore a major boost and in a performance that was so often panicked in the first half, McGeouch’s poise was notable.
Now, it is about staying in the side and building on it.
He actually played over 30 times last year, but it was the lack of rhythm that was key and something he is desperate to correct this season.
“It’s about having confidence in your body but performances as well. If they can be high and I can keep them up there I’ll give the manager no option to leave me out when he rotates,” he said.
“That’s key. Every player wants to play every game unless they’re injured.
“If I’m fit and playing well, hopefully I’ll keep my place. It’s up to the manager to decide that.“Getting a run of games and getting on the ball and stuff, especially the way we played on Saturday with one coming and one going high and having options forward, I think that will suit me. I want to get on it and dictate the tempo of games so I think if I can get myself fit I can have a part to play this year.”
That Oxford draw underlined the impact he can have. Calm on the ball but incisive, something that will be key as Sunderland look to break teams down on home turf. “Especially at home with teams sitting in, possession’s massive,” McGeouch said.
“Turning over the ball and making it into a bit of a basketball game is not really what we should be looking for.
“We should be looking to take control of the game, which I think we did most of the game on Saturday. We got it wide and got good deliveries into the box at times, made good chances, but if we give teams a goal headstart we’re up against it and it gives them that opportunity to hold on.
“For us it’s about getting a goal as early as possible, getting the fans up, getting them excited and having control of the ball. Hopefully at the weekend they enjoyed us getting a few passes in with the quality we’ve got if you get into good positions and drag people all over the pitch we can really hurt team.
“We’d like to go out and win by three or four every week, it’d be great but Sunderland are a massive club in this league and teams aren’t just going to turn up and let you score as many as you want, you need to build play, have possession, put teams under pressure and keep them defending,” he added.
“Hopefully then you take your chances.“Possession, keeping the ball and letting boys express themselves going forward through the midfield, getting wide and getting into good positions, I think that’s key for us this year.”Crucially, the 26-year-old believes the experience of last season can stand him in good stead for competing over a longer period this time around.
“I think I’ll be better prepared for the physicality of the league,” he said.
“A lot of teams have good athletes and just being at the grounds and experiencing the travelling and the expectations, the demands on your body of Saturday-Tuesday games and stuff like that will help. Back up the road I’m used to Saturday-Saturday games and every few weeks there’s a midweek game.“The schedule we had last year, especially with international breaks and stuff meant we had a build-up and we were playing Tuesday or Wednesday every week, so it was kind of getting used to that and now we have to go again and not taking your foot off the gas at times in training during the week.“Personally, I think that’s the biggest thing I learnt but it was disappointing not going up, especially with it being the last kick of the ball, and a lot of the guys will use that as motivation to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Competition for places in midfield will be fierce all season, but Ross opted to pair McGeouch with George Dobson for the opening day and the Scot felt there were encouraging signs.
“He’s got good legs and he’s comfortable on the ball,” McGeouch said.
“There’s a good understanding and I think sometimes when you play two [central] midfielders they can both look to come deep and we talked during the week with the manager about not coming too deep.“We had that understanding that if one was coming short, one would stay away a wee bit and be an option going forward so it was something we spoke about as a two and with the other midfielders as well.“Especially when you’re playing three centre-halves you don’t want to end up two of you playing as another centre-half really, you want to try and be an influence up the pitch.
“He’s got good legs going forward and if I’m going deep he’ll get himself in good positions,” he added.“I’ve only been training with him a week and I played with him on Saturday and enjoyed it but he’s comfortable on the ball, he’s got good legs, gets forwards and likes a tackle as well so he will bring different qualities to the squad but we’ve already got good quality as well, especially in the middle of the park.”
It was an opening day that revealed much to work on.
If McGeouch can maintain his form, it will be a significant boost for Ross.