Can’t deal with the cold, clearly…
John Ruddy: At around 4.15 yesterday afternoon we witnessed the rare sight of John Ruddy actually having to make a save. Granted, he didn’t really have to move and it was a fairly weak Lewis Grabban effort from close to 30 yards out, but a save nonetheless. It’s the only effort he’s had to field in the last 180 minutes of football. Sunderland proved to be more negative than the Amazon reviews for Nick Knowles’ album as that was their only shot in the entire match, on or off target. His role in the last two games has been more akin to a cricketer posted to field at third man than a goalkeeper.
Ryan Bennett: Essentially we got what we have come to expect from Bennett; anything he was asked to do defensively – and there wasn’t much in this game – was performed perfectly comfortably. His passing was safe and risk-free and he continues his excellent personal record of goals conceded when he’s been on the pitch (it currently stands at three from 12 appearances in all competitions). However…this was a situation where we were frequently asking the back three to step into midfield with the visitors sitting so relentlessly deep, and safe and risk-free wasn’t necessarily the best option for us. It’s possible that the superior ball-playing ability of Roderick Miranda would have helped us here, but then again can you really drop a defender who’s playing well and doing his core job more than acceptably? It’s not an easy decision for Nuno to make. Ultimately if we’d scored early here and won to nil, we wouldn’t even be talking about this.
Conor Coady: Normal service for the skipper who used the ball well, covered when needed at the back and did his best to push the team on in the second half. You could perhaps argue that he’s been slightly fortuitous that three at the back has come back into vogue of late – the requirements for where he plays are different to those of a centre half playing in a pair – but he really is excelling this season. Good to see.
Willy Boly: If there was mild surprise that Ruddy was forced into some form of action in the second half, it was downright astonishing that someone (in the form of the lively Lynden Gooch) managed to skip past Boly, one of the first times that anyone has got the better of him since his return from injury at the end of October. Otherwise he was as commanding and serene as ever, though Sunderland did much better than previous opponents at dealing with his threat from set pieces.
Matt Doherty: When you’re up against a team that are playing a genuine back five and a midfield with virtually no attacking intent in front of them, our formation requires the wingbacks to play a key role in stretching the play and providing good service from out wide. There was plenty of endeavour from Doherty who continues to demonstrate far superior work rate than in previous seasons (even allowing for this being an incredibly low bar) and he never hid. The problem is his quality on the ball; that crossing is still well below par as he tends to either wildly overhit the ball or supply a slow, floated delivery that is very easy to defend. Given that especially in home games, he’s largely exclusively tasked with attacking duties, it’s an area he desperately needs to work on.
Barry Douglas: Baz will wake up this morning pleased that by the laws of the gospel according to Steve Cotterill, he had a couple of good efforts on target yesterday. Of course back in the real world, neither shot actually troubled Robbin Ruiter and instead was blocked some distance from goal – in the first case by Romain Saiss and had that goalbound effort found the bottom corner in the opening five minutes…then we have a different game. But it didn’t, and that’s that. Corners were perhaps a little below his normal standard and he was subdued after his yellow card for bringing down Gooch, subsequently being replaced.
Romain Saiss: A small blot on Saiss’ copybook here as this was possibly his poorest display of what has been an overall extremely impressive season. While he was fine defensively, his use of the ball was very poor yesterday with a couple of Olofinjana-style, 30-40 yards away from anyone, “presumably that ball was too intelligent for everyone else on the pitch” passes being particularly notable. Can’t really have too many complaints about being substituted, although perhaps switching him into the back three may have been an alternative option.
Ruben Neves: Back in the team and clearly keen to make up for missing out on the game at St Andrews through suspension. From the outset he was as eager as ever to get on the ball, we saw the usual sumptuous touches and bits of class, but his shooting boots were absent yesterday; a number of long range efforts missed the target by a distance. Nitpicking, but a man of his talent should have more than one goal by now.
Ivan Cavaleiro: Has been in devastating form recently; like so many this was a drop-off from that standard. No shortage of effort and he was always willing to take defenders on, but the end product just wasn’t there yesterday. Crosses were frequently too heavy and he was unable to consistently break into central areas as he has done over the past month and more. Finished the game playing at left wingback, which is not a role I expect he’s ever had to perform previously.
Diogo Jota: That’s now four successive games in which an opposing player has been sent off in an incident involving Jota – Sunderland didn’t go for the outright assault option favoured by Birmingham but he continues to attract fouls as defences at this level cannot deal with him. Savagely hauled down by Marc Wilson in the second half before Lee “waistband up to his nipples” Cattermole was stupid enough to hack him down after his own Sunday League touch in the middle of the park. A couple of uncharacteristic ballooned efforts summed up the day for us in front of goal.
Leo Bonatini: Squandered our best chance late on in the first half as his effort from Cavaleiro’s pull back was horribly skewed nearer the corner flag than the goal. An otherwise fairly quiet outing and some of his normally excellent link up play just didn’t fall our way in this game, with layoffs dropping inches out of reach of team mates on a number of occasions.
Alfred N’Diaye: One raking pass out to the left aside, didn’t have much impact after replacing Saiss. Oddly we didn’t seem to give him the ball much given it would have been useful to have him driving forward as we know he can do.
Helder Costa: Subdued in his 15 minute or so outing. Seemed reticent to take Adam Matthews or Brendan Galloway on or to deliver the ball from out wide. It’s a conundrum for Nuno; Helder isn’t going to get back to his best when he’s never spending more than half an hour on the pitch, but equally he isn’t currently worthy of getting a start.
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