Phil Smith Sunderland Q&A: January plans and THOSE controversial Lee Johnson comments under the spotlight as pressure builds

Our Sunderland writer Phil Smith returns with his latest Q&A with January plans and those Lee Johnson comments under the spotlight.

Thursday, 11th November 2021, 12:30 pm

Do you think Lee Johnson can turn this around and how big is the next period of games?

I think it's a really important run of games after the international break.

Sunderland will play five, possibly six times (including one Papa John's Trophy game) in just over a fortnight and you'd expect to see not just an improvement in results, but a big uplift in performances.

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Sunderland head coach Lee Johnson.

Johnson himself has insisted that he can turn this around, and says this period of 10 days will be crucial.

His argument is that getting players back up to full sharpness will make a significant difference, with the likes of Ross Stewart and Aiden McGeady amongst those who he thinks will come back in better condition after some recent niggles.

I think there'll be an appreciation behind the scenes that this is a squad with a lot of young players, there have been a lot of tough fixtures recently and that across a long season there was likely to be some bumps in the road.

At the same time, promotion is the aim this season and there will be some alarm at the fact that Sunderland's performances of late have not really (or at all, actually) been in line with the club's philosophy.

They haven't pressed well enough, and in attack they have been unconvincing in the extreme.

So it's a crucial period for Johnson to show that he's right in terms of that sharpness, and that he can still deliver those dual goals of developing the style of play – while winning promotion.

The last fortnight has very obviously not been anywhere near good enough.

The January window will be important but it's crucial Sunderland enter it from a position of strength.

Do you think Nathan Broadhead has a chance of starting against Ipswich Town next Saturday? He looked impressive again in the Papa John's.

I agree.

It was a really superb goal, a terrific first touch and even better finish.

He's always trying to make that positive run in behind and he's definitely played his way into contention.

Will Johnson go with two strikers against a strong Ipswich side?

I'm not sure, but there are going to be four games in ten days starting with the visit of Paul Cook's side, and I think the Everton loanee will feature in just about all of them.

I think he will reprise that partnership with Ross Stewart that looked so threatening against Cheltenham Town along the way, but perhaps not straight away.

Is it time for Frederik Alves to get a run in the league? Hasn't had much of a look-in so far but been pretty steady in the cups.

I thought Alves had a good game against QPR in the Carabao, and given what subsequently happened in the league, I definitely felt it was an option that they were going to have to look at.

Since then the indications are that he might have to wait a little while yet.

He was one of the four replaced at half time against Mansfield Town, with Johnson making clear he wanted to see much more aggressive play on the ball.

That was a similar message to the one Johnson had at half time last night, when he said his defence had to get five yards up the pitch to help the team as a whole.

I asked whether Alves and Dajaku had impressed with their response to the weekend, and Johnson was fairly non-committal, saying that opportunities had to be earned.

I think Alves has been a bit unlucky so far, personally, but it seems he has a bit more to do before he gets that league chance.

Johnson definitely feels he isn't quite bringing out his full potential in terms of his distribution at the moment.

There's been a lot of debate about Lee Johnson's comments post-match that 'people weren't expecting anything' this season. What did you make of it?

My reading of it was the point he was making to his players that opinions will change a lot over the course of the season, you have to block any noise out and focus on your performance.

That specific comment was, I think, referring to the fact that there was some concern in the fortnight before the season (understandable at the time, given some of the gaps) over whether the squad was strong enough to compete.

He has always said that promotion this season is the aim, and said as recently as the Sheffield Wednesday game that he is still targeting top spot.

He knows, and has said he accepts entirely, that the expectation this season is to finally get the club out of League One.

I think it's one of those where it hasn't quite come out as intended.

What's the suggestion so far about what level of investment there will be in the January window?

It's definitely going to be an important part of the campaign and there will be backing.

Johnson has already said that there will be no 'open chequebook', so I'd expect it to be measured additions rather than heavy spending.

The head coach has also noted that getting to a lucrative Carabao Cup quarter-final at Arsenal as useful in terms of helping to raise some funds.

The squad is in definite need of another full-back, even if players are beginning to return from injury by then, and I'd also be expecting the club to target some

more depth in central midfield.

Beyond that might well depend on how the squad fares in terms of both injury and form between now and the window opening.

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