Ahead of tomorrow's game against against the Black Cats we talk to Simon Walsh of the excellent Roker Report to get his thoughts on all things Sunderland and a look at how he views the upcoming game.
About this time last year Martin O’Neill had been in charge for a month and Sunderland was slowly clawing it’s way clear of the relegation places. So…why haven’t things changed?
Simon Walsh: It’s an odd one, I’ll grant you that. It’s really just a matter of too many mistakes on the pitch which are costing us dearly. On paper – and reflected in the league – results are not good at all, but really there’s just been too many times in which players have done something ridiculous and it’s cost us a goal. We’ve played well quite a lot this season, and I wouldn’t say there really was a game we’ve been completely dominated in or didn’t turn up for. It just seems we need to go one or two down first before we get going. Incredibly frustrating.
Tottenham Hotspur have had problems conceding late goals. Sunderland seem to be having the opposite problem, they’re conceding too many early goals. Is this a tactical failing of O’Neill’s or are the players just falling asleep?
SW: It’s the latter. Players have had lapses in concentration - which happens, there’s no harm there - but every single time it seems to be costly. O’Neill can only do so much on the training ground, but all these little things that happen on the pitch he can have little control over. I really do think once the players have given themselves a good talking to we’ll be absolutely fine this season. O’Neill seems as frustrated as the rest of us with it.
Given that things aren’t going well for the club for the second straight season do you think a change of manager is necessary?
SW: Not at all. The short answer is that there’s nobody better for the job out there at the moment. Performances have improved since Bruce left and O’Neill is still very much the right man to turn things around. Sometimes these things take time, it’s just unfortunate we live in an age of short- termism which leads to managers getting sacked far too early. He’s had one year, and I’d happily give O’Neill another four or five.
Bringing in Steven Fletcher was huge for the Black Cats and he’s been great so far, but the guys that are supposed to be supplying him with crosses aren’t playing as well. What’s the deal with Adam Johnson and James McClean?
SW: Much is made of Fletcher’s aerial prowess but he’s actually superb at his feet, so we don’t really need him to be on the end of a million crosses. I think he’s actually only scored one headed goal this season. Johnson’s still finding his feet in the side and was slightly derailed early on by injury, where as McClean had a little bit of "second season syndrome" which he seems to be getting out of in the last 4-5 games. As good as he was last season, we have to remember that 18 months ago he was playing amateur football. Both are still highly talented players who’ve been in a bit of a funk. Thankfully both seem to be coming out of it.
Stephane Sessegnon seems to have recovered his form after a fairly poor start to the season. How important is he to Sunderland’s success both in this match and for the season?
SW: Sess is an odd one. We love him, obviously, but he does annoy you at times. He has all the talent in the world and sometimes he just looks like he cannot be arsed. I’ve been asked this question a few times and every time I’ve pointed back to the Fulham game. In that game he was awful, then BANG – he pops up with a wondergoal from nowhere. That’s what he can do for you, and that’s why you persist with him. He’s very crucial to us as he’s the only one who can make something out of nothing. It’s just when he feels like it.
The January transfer window isn’t far away, what do Sunderland need and what can they actually afford?
SW: Well we need to tie Danny Rose down to a permanent transfer if you wouldn’t mind helping us out there. We also badly need another body in central midfield. Not just a body though, one of quality. I’m sure every team is searching for one, but we need an Essien or a Yaya Toure. Obviosuly neither of those, but that sort of player and that sort of build. A big beast who will run all day and provide muscle in there. Who can we afford? I’ve no idea. We’re assured that there’s money there but we know January has a little added tax to it.
What are some key matchups that Sunderland have to win to be successful against Spurs?
SW: What I’ve highlighted is our strikeforce against your central defenders. I really like Caulker, but I don’t think too much of Gallas or Dawson. Vertonghen will hopefully be out the way at left- back in this situation as I rate him too. It will rely heavily on Fletcher getting the better of his marker, and Sessegnon being there to pick up on scraps. However, Sess will have to change his game of late and actually get within 10-feet of Fletcher to do so. I think there’s mismatches there though that we can take advantage of if we really apply ourselves.
Lastly, what’s your prediction for this game?
SW: It’s a long trip for you lot, and the weather is probably going to be crap. Hopefully some of your lot don’t fancy that and we can bore our way to a 0-0 draw as per last season. I’d take that at the moment.