What Everton's Ellis Simms will offer Sunderland and how he’ll provide a different option to Ross Stewart
In the second half of Sunderland’s 1-1 draw with Coventry City, Alex Neil considered bringing on new signing Ellis Simms.
There was an argument that the Black Cats’ new centre-forward, on loan from Everton, would have helped relieve some pressure by stretching the opposition’s advancing backline.
Instead, Neil elected to try and shore up Sunderland’s midfield by bringing on Luke O’Nien in place of Elliot Embleton in the 61st minute
Whether Simms’ introduction would have altered the course of the match is unclear, yet the 21-year-old’s arrival will certainly bolster the squad’s attacking options.
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During his spell on loan at Hearts last season, the striker led the line in a 4-2-3-1 formation and played as part of a front two. That certainly bodes well for Sunderland, where Simms will be required to play alongside Ross Stewart while also acting as a replacement if the Scot becomes unavailable.
Neil said earlier this summer that he wanted to provide more competition and variety to his forward line, so it’s hoped Simms’ arrival will add another dimension to the Black Cats’ attack.
One thing the striker will offer is pace in behind. The majority of his seven goals for Hearts came when the opposition’s defence was retreating and there was space to exploit in the final third.
Figure one is from Hearts’ SPL fixture against Dundee in February where Simms is able to create space for team-mate Barrie McKay, before finding room to receive the ball and finish the chance.
Last season’s performances also showed that Simms’ most effective playing through the middle, where he can position himself in the penalty area (as shown by the forward’s heatmap in figure two). Out of the striker’s seven goals during the last campaign, six were converted inside the penalty box.
So while Stewart was often willing to drop deeper and contribute to his side’s build-up play, Simms is far more suited to playing on the last defender and receiving passes higher up the pitch.
That is reflected in the amount of passes the pair received during the 2021/22 campaign, with Stewart receiving an average of 14.25 passes per match (according to Wyscout) compared to Simms’ 8.84.
Simms was also able to make more runs with the ball in advanced areas, averaging 2.6 dribbles per match compared to Stewart’s 1.65.
Clearly Sunderland will have to make some adaptations to utilise Simms’ attributes and play to his strengths, yet with creative players such as Alex Pritchard, Elliot Embleton, Dan Neil and Jack Clarke the signs look promising.
Still, while the striker is a powerful figure at 6 ft 2, he’s not as effective in the air as Stewart, with Simms winning just 33.3% of his aerial duels in the SPL for Hearts.
Stewart’s pressing from the front was also important for the Black Cats last season, with the Scot averaging 2.97 recoveries in the opposition’s half per 90 minutes, while Simms’ averaged 1.92 over the same period.
Still, the Everton forward will certainly provide another exciting option when Neil feels the time is right to use him.