The issue with Bryan Oviedo, Lynden Gooch’s dip in form and a huge injury blow: Sunderland AFC issues explained
International call-ups see Sunderland take a break from the intensity of the League One promotion battle.
It’s been an eventful few weeks for the Black Cats with the club reaching the Checkatrade Trophy final, beating Walsall to close the points gap to Barnsley to just two points plus the blow of Duncan Watmore being ruled out for the season.
Our Sunderland AFC writer Phil Smith was joined by BBC Newcastle’s Sunderland AFC commentator Nick Barnes for our weekly Q&A with supporters.
Here, the pair reflect on some of the big Sunderland talking points.
Duncan Watmore injury blow:
The forward, who only returned from two years out after successive ACL injuries earlier this season, is now facing up to three months out with ankle ligament damage.
Nick Barnes said: “It is horrible for Watmore and a big blow for Sunderland, he was just finding his feet, it was a brave finish at Wycombe.
“Any demons about worrying about getting injured had gone and then he gets that needless tackle near the halfway line.
“But Sunderland have to get on with it. Barnsley have lost key players and got on with it, that is as much down to their strong team spirit and mentality and determination.
“Sunderland have to replicate that and dig deep.
“Missing the Checkatrade Trophy final will be tough for Watmore to take but he is mentally strong, no question about that after coming through what he has done over the past two years.”
Phil Smith said: “At the very least he will still be able to have a full pre-season, so he starts next season at the same level as everyone else – that is important for him going forward.
“At least he will still get that but it was so frustrating for him as he was proving such an effective player to have on the bench, especially.
“He is a difficult player to replace. It is a real blow for Sunderland and on the personal side too as we all know what it meant to him to score a massive league goal in a big game after what he has been through the last couple of years”
Lynden Gooch’s dip in form:
The attacking midfielder enjoyed a blistering start to the campaign, providing key goals and assists but his form has dipped recently, though he did impress from the bench against Walsall adding drive and intensity.
Barnes said: “With Gooch, he has hit the buffers a bit this season, he goes down a cul-de-sac, he will take the ball on but goes down blind alleys.
“We saw it at Barnsley, he gets into a situation where he runs into space but is then on the ball too long and then has three defenders around him.
“Lewis Morgan I like because he doesn’t get in that situation, his head is always up and he has been a big plus since arriving in January.”
Smith said: “Morgan plays with such poise and grace.
“With Gooch, it is important to remember his career so far, every season he has come into the side, then had a month out and come back in for a few games and flown and then been back out the team again.
“This season he has been a regular and I think it is catching up with him a bit mentally and physically.
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“He is not playing as he was earlier in the season, perhaps it is inevitable with a younger player having to play a lot of games, there will be dips.”
Bryan Oviedo faces an uncertain future
The defender has barely been seen since a deadline day January move to West Bromwich Albion collapsed late on, the left-back has since suffered a couple of injuries and is now way down the pecking order behind Reece James, Adam Matthews and Denver Hume.
Barnes said: “To my mind he has been clearly unsettled by the failure to go to West Bromwich Albion in January and he has been injured and out of the picture since.
“He is a good player, no question but I think he has struggled to come to terms with League One.
“I think Jack Ross feels there is an issue with him as a full-back, we know he is good in the final third.”
Smith added: “I think he struggled defensively to come to terms with defending in the Championship.
“If you look at what Jack Ross has done with Oviedo this year, he has played him so there hasn’t been a falling out but how many times has it been the last 15 minutes of games, when Ross wants more attacking power and he tried to play him on the wing too.
“That gives you an insight into the manager’s thinking, he clearly doesn’t believe he is his best option as an all round full-back though he obviously rates him in terms of his attacking play.
“Also, Oviedo keeps getting injured so isn’t training much and we need to give Reece James more credit and respect.
“He may not be very dynamic but if one of the best things in recent months has been Aiden McGeady’s form, then you have to give James credit for allowing McGeady to play high, be aggressive and make a huge difference in the final third.
“Something about that partnership on the left is working really well.”
Checkatrade Trophy final:
Sunderland will face Portsmouth at Wembley on March 31 in the Checkatrade Trophy final, the Black Cats backed by 40,000 supporters.
Barnes said: “I think it will be a fantastic day out. For all the criticism the Checkatrade Trophy gets the competition is good for League One and Two clubs.
“Clubs that have embraced it have done well. The carrot is that the final is at Wembley. It is still on the day a Wembley final and Sunderland fans know that is special because of what they experienced in the League Cup final.
“Fans will go there knowing Sunderland have a 50-50 chance of winning and it will be a fantastic occasion and everyone will enjoy it.
“When you know you have this gruelling campaign to get through, if Sunderland were to get to the Checkatrade Trophy final then it shouldn’t hamper what you do in the league and I don’t think it has.
“If you are a good team then you can compete on a couple of fronts and Sunderland are doing that.”
Smith added: “The fact it is Portsmouth in the final means it will be a fantastic occasion, two clubs that have been through the wringer, with big fan bases.
“It won’t feel like a Checkatrade Trophy final, it will feel like an FA Cup final.
“If Sunderland play the way they can play, with the space available for the likes of Aiden McGeady and Lewis Morgan, then they should thrive on it.”