For the second fixture running, Sunderland supporters looked at the team selection and knew before the game had even kicked off that a goal for their side was unlikely.
An unfulfilled obsession with not conceding is costing them.
After the disappointing goalless draw with West Brom, Sam Allardyce said: “The elusive clean sheet came today, which was the most important thing.”
Isn’t scoring more important than not conceding? A wonderful thing to achieve both; but it is possible to concede and still win; impossible to win without putting in a goal.
Team selection and substitutions need to be more adventurous; not reckless, or all-out attack, just positive.
The reality is that Sunderland can try anything they wish and the likelihood remains that they will not keep a clean sheet. They have only done so on four occasions this season and once in the last 19 games; against a West Brom side with nothing to play for and with zero attacking intent.
Sunderland really are trying hard for clean sheets, it’s just that they won’t get them.
This reality dictates that at least one goal must be scored to merely draw and, with Jermain Defoe the only player to hit the net in the past six weeks, what is being done to address this?
Following the failure to score against reasonable opposition one week, an unchanged Sunderland side was named to play against the best team in the country the next. It included three defensive midfielders who have now managed one goal and three assists between them in a combined 67 appearances.
Of Sunderland’s five midfielders against Leicester, two of them were attacking players. Both were taken off.
Wahbi Khazri was substituted following an indifferent performance. But with Sunderland trailing by then, it made little sense to take off a player who may or may not score and create goals, to leave on players who just won’t.
Fabio Borini had been lively, but looked tired when he was replaced. However, Jan Kirchhoff is hardly a bucket of raw energy when the clock goes past 80 minutes.
Lee Cattermole has scored two goals in his seven years at the club. He wasn’t bad against either West Brom or Leicester, but was never going to provide the desperately needed cutting edge. He won’t do it at Norwich either.
In fairness, Sunday’s three used substitutes, Dame N’Doye, Jack Rodwell and Jeremain Lens, all seemed like reasonable introductions when they were made. We can be sure too that Rodwell was not instructed to wet himself when a goal-scoring opportunity landed his way.
That fluffed chance can hardly have helped his claim for a place in the starting line-up, nor was it his only missed sitter this season.
But is it better to play someone who has at least managed to find chances than someone who won’t even make those chances in the first place? I dunno. You can decide for yourselves.
I do know that if Sunderland draw at Carrow Road on Saturday they will retain hope, if not expectation. Lose and they are pretty much kaput.
There is no reason to expect that they will keep a clean sheet or score more than one goal (especially if Defoe has an off-day), not with so many midfielders who rarely arrive in the opposition penalty area?
Alternatives for midfield are Rodwell, N’Doye, Lens, Larsson, Watmore and the work-to-rule Ola Toivonen.
Not exactly a royal flush there, but something has to change; immediately if not sooner.