The one 'bright spot' Sunderland can take from their Oxford draw - and why a raft of signings aren't required
Well it was different. Nah, only kidding. It was exactly the same.
On January 23 this year, this column referred to Sunderland’s 1-1 draw at Scunthorpe as: “A copied, duplicated, repeat that we’ve seen before, replicated by déjà vu all over again once more. And not for the first time.”
Nine more largely avoidable draws have been racked up since; and somehow the copying and pasting the quote in the previous paragraph seems doubly appropriate.
On Friday Jack Ross was asked what key difference he would like to see from last season.
He answered: “Draw less games.”
It wasn’t an unreasonable response. But I bet he wishes he hadn’t said it now; and not just for grammatical reasons.
Not only did Saturday provide yet another draw, it was the third draw against Oxford in the last 11 months – and they were all 1-1.
Sunderland drew 19 times last season, mainly in games that they should have won against unremarkable opposition. So the only remotely shocking thing about Saturday was the absence of any evidence anything has changed.
On the surface of it, there was considerable difference. There were nine different starters from the previous competitive game, and five players made their first league starts for the club.
There was also a new formation with wing-backs being used along with three centre backs. So why did it look the same as most of the draws last season?
Personally I don’t like playing wing-backs at all. Aside of the physical exertion of being asked in effect to play two positions, few players can be both a winger and a full back. Even fewer of them earn their money in League One.
Voila. Left wing-back Denver Hume didn’t look like an attacker. Right wing-back Lynden Gooch didn’t look like a defender.
Holes kept appearing on both sides and playing three centre-backs is unlikely to add any much-needed creativity.
Personally, I would like to see the wing-back system strangled at birth and don’t look forward to seeing it at Ipswich this week.
But tactics and formation are always a distant second in importance to the abilities of the players selected.
One bright spot was the performance of Dylan McGeouch who was man-of-the-match.
However, he’s a defensive midfielder and therefore did not need another defensive midfielder beside him in George Dobson; which partly explains the lack of chances created. Sunderland didn’t exactly lay siege to Oxford’s goal
There was so much to question. I can’t understand why Duncan Watmore was introduced before either Aiden McGeady or Chris Maguire; while deciding not to use Luke O’Nien at all was downright bewildering as Gooch has barely had a good game since Christmas.
But the biggest failing, other than aimless passes and certain players simply performing badly, was the ongoing lack of positivity. Sunderland worry too much about what the opposition might do.
I am well aware that only one game has been played. But the issues are not new and the criticism is not instant panic. The problems are too old for that to be the case.
Furthermore, the pre-season, May’s play-offs and the Oxford game suggest tell us that scoring has become a problem.
There is no magic wand. But solutions are available and don’t require a pile of new signings.