Stephen Elliott: Sunderland need to change approach to get best out of ex-Rangers striker

Coming away from the ground on Saturday, the victory against Crewe left me caught between two stools.

By Stephen Elliott
Monday, 14th March 2022, 5:00 pm

Sign up to our Sunderland AFC newsletter

On one hand it was another three points, something that we cannot take for granted given recent results but performance wise up until the last 20 minutes or so it was really frustrating to watch.

The team looked imbalanced and there was no cutting edge in the way the team performed.

We have to remember that Crewe are arguably one of the poorest teams in the division but for an hour or so Sunderland resorted to long balls up to Ross Stewart which just didn’t work.

Sunderland beat Crewe 2-0 at the weekend to keep play-off hopes alive.

Sign up to our Sunderland AFC newsletter

It was difficult to see where a goal was going to come from.

If Jermain Defoe is going to play from the start then Sunderland will need to change their methods to get the best from him.

He would have been watching on after his substitution wishing the team had of played like that when he was on the pitch.

You can’t be too critical of Alex Neil though as the team are starting to keep a few clean sheets but I felt the team didn’t start to look dangerous until the three changes were made.

Neil has obviously made the team harder to score against, which always gives you a good base to begin from.

Again I may be sounding a bit critical as the argument is there that Sunderland’s strength in depth in attacking areas came to the fore with the introduction of Leon Dajaku, Dan Neil and Patrick Roberts making a massive difference.

However, against better teams I think Sunderland would have struggled on that first hour or so showing.

I spoke last week in this column about how I felt Roberts would have hugely benefited from his 70 minutes last week and I think what we saw when he entered the pitch on Saturday was a player who looked hungry.

He was a constant threat on the ball and his goal typified everything he is about and capable of.

I believe he has real star quality and could have a huge part to play in the rest of the season.

At this stage of the season, no matter how you dress it up, winning is everything and Alex Neil will be delighted to get back-to-back wins.

Two wins against Fleetwood and Crewe are not going to make headlines but they are the games that are needed to be dealt with and they were. Neil will also have a much better idea of what qualities his squad possess.

This season still for me is all about getting promoted and with other teams in and around the play-offs continuing to show form it’s imperative that the team continue to win games to keep that grip on a play-off spot.

It’s Lincoln away next and the team should know exactly what they need to do to continue this winning run. After what happened earlier in the season against the Imps there should be added desire to put things right.

A message from the Football Clubs Editor

Our aim is to provide you with the best, most up-to-date and most informative Sunderland AFC coverage 365 days a year.

This depth of coverage costs, so to help us maintain the high-quality reporting that you are used to, please consider taking out a subscription to our new sports-only package here.

Your support is much appreciated. Richard Mennear, Football Clubs Editor