Let’s take the positives from Sunday first.
That’s right, after a game where we’ve shipped six goals and been beaten by a margin of four, I’m going to talk about the (potential) positives.
First of all, our strikers. Steven Fletcher was brilliant on Sunday and continued to show the form of a man who is either: playing for a contract or, for the first time in months, is actually fully fit. Injuries have blighted the donut loving Scotsman’s time on Wearside but with a full pre-season behind him, Sunderland can hopefully keep him fit so he can continue his fine form.
Sam Allardyce had instructed his defenders to get the ball up to Fletcher as quickly as possible and rarely did the ball not stick to him, whether it was in the air or at his feet. Not a bad tactic to deploy either, especially with Jermain Defoe alongside Fletcher to provide support and to be on the end of flick-ons and passes.
Both forwards deserve immense credit for their goals as well. Defoe did brilliantly to beat, first Ramiro Funes Mori and then John Stones, to get Sunderland back into the game. His shot may have taken a deflection on its way to goal but Defoe earned that piece of luck with his sublime skill in the build-up. As already mentioned, Steven Fletcher was having a very strong game and fully deserved his goal to draw the game level. It was a simple ball into the box from Patrick Van Aanholt but Fletcher did well to get the better of Funes Mori to nod the ball into the bottom corner.
Allardyce will have no issues with the strikers display and I’m sure that Fletcher and Defoe are furious with their team mates after they had done their bit.
With this in mind, Allardyce needs to look to keep a system that keeps both strikers in the side and alongside each other. Big Sam’s choice to play a 3-5-2 has been much maligned due to the score line but was it a case of a good idea badly executed? If we were to, for example, put John O’Shea and Younes Kaboul into that system I dare say we’d have fared better.
With the experience of O’Shea and Kaboul to keep Sebastian Coates in check, we remove the age and fitness issues of Wes Brown and it stops us having Billy Jones playing in central defence. The full backs, of course, could still be an issue here but if Billy Jones was to regain the left back position, at the expense of Van Aanholt, we certainly wouldn’t be so exposed down the left hand side. Maybe we wouldn’t be as expansive going forward but that isn’t really a luxury we can think about after having just conceded six goals.
We’d certainly expect our central midfielders not to be so anonymous in future as well but some credit has to go to Everton for not allowing our midfielders to be effective.
Sunday has certainly given Sam Allardyce a lot to think about. If he wasn’t already, he’ll now be fully aware of the defensive problems facing Sunderland. I’m sure he’ll have an eye on the January transfer window and who will be available to strengthen at the back. There is real cause for optimism up front though and the manager has to find a system that protects us at the back but still plays to the strengths of our in-form strikers.
It’s now all about finding an effective way of keeping Defoe and Fletcher up front but making sure we don’t have to win every game 5-4.
*This piece was originally written for and published by The Durham Times.