A Small Slice of Humble Pie

An apology to players who are often at the wrong end of my criticism. As the old guard at Stoke reminded the new what is missing from their game, work rate.
Like many of us come 2 o’clock I was less than amused at Sparky’s team selection, I was glad to see the return of Pieters and Shaqiri; and believed Cameron was a good option to deal with Defoe’s pace. But, I was not happy with the selection of Mr. Crouch and Adam. In fact prior to the match I tweeted this:

referring to the physical make up of both of my not so favourite players. Yet I was left eating my words as one was awarded the man of the match award and the other certainly deserved it.

Despite not winning the award himself, my choice for man of the match has to be Charlie Adam. The Scot was truly everywhere, making runs into space and thus stretching the Sunderland midfield. I was genuinely shocked by the volume of Adams movement, he seemed to have established himself as a tireless box to box midfielder. Sometimes he would drop deep to fetch the ball from the defence, and other times he was careering forward to supplement the attack. It was not just Charlie’s movement that impressed me, but his intent on ensuring that every ball he delivered did not just simply recycle possession but attempt to force the team forward. This is shown in the stats as Adam only made 6 backwards passes compared to his 15 forward.

Adam showed the current midfielders (be it those on the bench or in the starting XI) what was missing from their current game. Obviously players like Imbula and Afellay possess greater technical ability than Charlie, although none can deliver a ball like him. But it was Adam’s work rate and attacking intent that set him apart from the French and Dutch international. The specific example of this came when Pieters had the ball out wide, with a man covering him from carrying it forward, and Arnie was marked tightly by two players. Adam spotted that this left a great deal of space on the left flank (just past the half-way line) so he made a run from the centre of the pitch, meaning one of the men on Pieters or Arnie was forced to go to Adam, and this stretched the game. Meanwhile when Imbula was faced with the same situation he stood rooted to his position gesturing towards his feet, a ball that was much higher risk than if he made the same run as Adam.

As for man of the match Peter Crouch he defeated my two largest complaints. First (and this has relatively little to do with Crouch) is that when he is on the pitch the team appears petrified of actually playing it long to the big man. The cup match against Liverpool was the perfect example, as despite being introduced for his aerial ability, Mr. Crouch seemed to have very little effect on the outcome of the match. Yet it was the total opposite in this game. It was nice to see Jakub Haugaard grow into his role a little more, and he orchestrated the shift to playing it up to Crouch. After failing to claim a ball Haugaard got it in the ear from the rest of the defence, but once he came out of the dressing room at half time he took much more control. On countless occasions he would wave Cameron and Shawcross away from the short goal kick option. This change was clear as Haugaard played more balls to Crouch (12) than any other player.

My other grievance with Crouchy is that despite his ability to win a header more often than not he flicks it into a location where there is only opposition players. Yet there was no such trouble in this match as he constantly flicked the ball to a team mate or bringing it down and passing it on. Again Crouch’s movement was much improved, meeting the ball in the box several times providing great opportunities for Arnie. Often Crouch is on his heels and can’t win a ball unless it is delivered straight to him, and in turn this means he cannot generate any power. But instead Crouch moved all over the box, winning 4 out of 5 of his aerial duels attempted in the box.

Despite the excellent performances of the new comers to the squad, a problem that has plagued us for several season returned to prevent us getting the win, missed chances. One that sticks is Imbula’s miss in the final minutes of the match. It was a miss that reeked of inexperience and a lack of confident, Imbula hesitated and due to the pace of the Premier League one hesitation is all it takes to waste an opportunity. This is a problem that hopefully Imbula will adapt to with more game time, but again the lack of goals is clear and an all-round striker will be top priority come the transfer window.

The Sunderland performance was much improved from our spankings against Liverpool, Spurs and Man City. Hopefully Adam and Crouch’s performances will show to the rest of the side what is required from them. If our more talented players (Bojan, Shaq, Imbula etc.) put in the quantity of movement that Adam did we would solve most of our problems, and give some excellent performances against Palace and West Ham to end the year.

Written by Tom Thrower

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