Sunderland need more attacking formations, Gus

Jermain Defoe
Jermain Defoe
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IT WAS as if, having secured the services of a renowned centre-forward, Sunderland were forced to use ever more imaginative ways to fail to score.

Scoring is their most obvious problem this season. Playing in an even more negative manner was not an extensively endorsed solution, but they gave it a whirl.

In theory, the formation against Fulham was more attacking.

The idea is that there are only three defenders, with the full-backs becoming attackers so that Jermain Defoe and Steven Fletcher will have more ammunition than you could shake a stick at.

Alas, even the most dedicated stick shaker will be disappointed.

The reality is that the full-backs, wing-backs or whatever they’re called, did not surprise anyone by instantly mutating into marauding wingers. They did not attack any more than they would have done under the usual system. When they did attack, they did so in isolation.

So much for theory. In theory this column could be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, but don’t bother betting on it (We promise. Editor).

Patrick van Aanholt and Billy Jones are full-backs; by trade and by nature. So Sunderland were really playing five defenders, plus a defensive midfielder in Liam Bridcutt. Jack Rodwell was also playing (too) deep.

Before the game had even begun, we knew that the best we could hope for was another limp over the line, like the one against Leeds in the previous round.

Systems and formations are a subject of endless debate for football people like you and me.

But the system or formation is nowhere near as important as the quality of the players. So playing five defenders like that meant, in effect, that Emanuele Giaccherini was left on the bench in favour of Sebastián Coates.

It could be argued that the system had almost worked at White Hart Lane the previous week. But while caution is advised when playing away from home to the Premier League’s sixth placed team, what could be said in favour of employing it in a home game against a side in the bottom half of the Championship?

Fulham also rested three of their better players (including Ross McCormack who had scored a hat-trick three days earlier), while their captain was injured.

We struggle to see any justification for that system and selection. What was worse than failing to score against lowly Fulham, was that we knew as soon as we saw the team sheet that it would be a struggle. We also correctly assumed that it would be boring.

The same system was used in successive games last season against Liverpool, West Ham and Tottenham. Sunderland lost the lot. They then reverted to a system that was eminently more sensible and embarked upon what unimaginative people called The Great Escape.

So why has this nonsense returned? It just doesn’t work!

Hardly less fathomable have been Sunderland’s substitutions.

I do not wish to be unkind, but introducing Will Buckley instead of either Giaccherini, Ricky Álvarez or Jordi Gómez was something of a head scratcher.

Saturday was yet another occasion when a third substitution was never made and this happens far too often. What difference might the introduction of a third sub (take your pick) against Fulham, Tottenham, West Ham, Leicester or Everton have made, if only by replacing a tired player?

We will never know. What we do know is that none of those games were won – but could have been.

A few boos were heard at full-time on Saturday. Booing your own team never improves matters, but I can fully understand it. That said, Sunderland supporters have been remarkably patient, especially when we consider that their team has only won one home league game this season.

This makes certain post-match comments made by the manager rather regrettable. The supporters are aware of the difference between passing the ball forward and “kick and rush.”

Gus Poyet said of the fans: “When we are all together it’s easier and at the moment, it doesn’t look like that.”

The fans do their best (and your vocal support could tilt the game on this Saturday – please provide it). But it is difficult to infuse belief and confidence to the pitch from the stands when, because of team selection, despondency has set in before the match has even started; exacerbated when mediocre substitutes are preferred to gifted ones.

Listless footballers and red cards acquired in about the most boneheaded manner imaginable did little for supporter-player bonhomie. Not everything is the manager’s fault.

Poyet still has the good will of the majority of the supporters. Whatever the current travails, the club is in a far better condition than it was the day he arrived. He has dug himself out of holes in the past and can do it again.

But he won’t do it with THAT formation and the ongoing omission of players with a bit of quality.

By Tuesday evening, Sunderland’s season could have been transformed. If there is such a thing as a must-win game at this stage of the season, then Saturday’s match with Burnley is it.

Defeat or a draw will see the atmosphere deteriorate rapidly.

Defeat or a draw after using the same misguided tactics and selection will make it – even before 3pm – downright poisonous.

The opposition will love it.

WELL, if that didn’t get you into a party mood I don’t know what will.

For even more jollity, let us consider the FA Cup and the joy, both potential and realised, that it brings.

The single positive aspect to yet another turgid game four days ago is that Sunderland did not lose. They are still in the competition. As a footy fan, you will no doubt be a dreamer. You will embrace the whimsy of winning a cup.

And why not? Worse teams than Sunderland have won trophies in recent years. In fact they almost managed it themselves last season.

These thoughts do not apply to the Premier League trophy. I said dreamer, not complete fantasist.

The first step to winning a trophy is to take it seriously. This was not the case last season when Sunderland played silly buggers in the quarter-final at Hull.

We understand why Sunderland took that game so lightly. Had they reached the semi, an extremely stupid and unfair UEFA rule would have compelled them to play four games in a week, which could well have relegated them. But I still say they should have gone for it.

No such fixture congestion would be likely to occur this season, so there is no reason not to take the Fulham replay seriously.

Victory at Craven Cottage would see Sunderland at Bradford City of League One in the fifth round. If they actually make the last eight, then at least two of the other seven will be of lower league stock.

In a world where Bradford can score four in their fabulous (and very amusing) win at Chelsea, it would be a mug who presumes that all of this will simply happen in course. But if it all goes right for a change, then Sunderland could be back in the quarter-finals – and one game from Wembley.

This is a delightful thought and not an entirely nebulous one. I suggest you hang on to it until Fulham, Bradford or whoever takes it away from you.

There are those who feel that the cups are a distraction. They are, but a distraction we should be pleased with. Do you think that cup exits over the weekend for Southampton, Chelsea, Manchester City and Swansea have been morale boosters for any of those clubs? I assure you they have not.

Detractors of the FA Cup point out that the total prize money to the winners is £3.4m, which is roughly doubled after gate receipts and television payments. This is hardly significant compared with the £71.7m that Sunderland received last season for finishing 14th in the league.

But that is not the point. At least it shouldn’t be.

Retain your inner child and cast out your inner accountant. If you don’t allow yourself a little daydream about another day out at Wembley, then you have missed the point of the FA Cup.

In fact you have missed the point of football.

JERMAIN Defoe seems to have a natural gift for PR.

On Friday, he said of his new club: “Even before I signed I knew that it was a special club with special fans.

“You speak to other players that have played for this club and they have always said that it’s a special place.”

Whether he actually meant any of this is of little concern (although it is worth bearing in mind that he had other options, but chose to play here). It’s what people wanted to hear. Bright lad.

Also to his credit is realising something that many a Londoner has failed to understand over the years. The capital is only a three-hour train ride from Sunderland.

By the time he’s taken his seat on Grand Central, read the Echo and finished his Cup-a-Soup, he’ll almost be back at his mam’s place for tea and dunkies.

Sounds great; I think I’ll go with him.

But he made another comment that Sunderland supporters may have found quite touching in its naivety.

He said: “I would like to represent my country again.

“It’s the best thing in the world, playing for your country, pulling that shirt on. If I’m scoring goals, I’d like to think I’ll get the opportunity to do that again.”

Ah bless. He is evidently more familiar with the relationship between Tottenham Hotspur and England, which decrees that any Spurs player who is good enough and eligible to play for the country will automatically receive squad selection; whereas any Spurs player who is not good enough will automatically receive squad selection anyway.

Perhaps he has not been appraised of the somewhat contrasting situation at Sunderland.

Jermain, you can bash in 30 goals between now and the end of this season. It still won’t get you in the England squad.

That’s how it works, mate. Sorry to break it to you like that.

LAST week, we had an enjoyable debrief on the latest at the Sports Direct Arena.

We were enjoying the clichéd drivel about a new manager being someone who must “understand what the club and the fans are all about” – as if anyone didn’t.

Former player and professional Geordie, Steve Watson, has since chimed in with: “If you are going to be successful at Newcastle, you have to embrace the city and the fans.

“You can’t come in and say you are going to sell everybody and do your own thing.

“You just can’t do that in Newcastle.”

So yet another Tyneside romancer has regurgitated the guff about NUFC being different. The only thing that makes Newcastle different from other clubs is that they somehow think they’re different.

As at any other club, the manager can do what he likes if he wins games.

The club has now appointed old oo-jah as coach until the end of the season as a reward for the exciting start he has made.

He makes history as the first person to take charge at a Premier League club before anyone had even heard of him; so you can’t say the lad hasn’t done well.