Bury 0-1 Sunderland: Review

  • The reversion to a 5-3-2 shape, eerily similar to my suggestion of how it could look earlier this week, was a sign of Bury manager Lee Clark giving in my view Sunderland too much respect. Undoubtedly with the strong lineup Simon Grayson chose, there were numerous threats in midfield for the Black Cats. That said, they were always going to look to stretch the game and double up on the Shakers’ wing-backs. In my view, it was a mistake in particular to let this happen on Craig Jones’ flank. More on him later.


  • The encounter started much more openly than I’d originally anticipated. Stephen Dawson’s reassuring presence allowed both Tsun Dai and Callum Reilly to burst forward in support of Nicky Ajose and the best opening of the first half for the home side was for Dai, but he couldn’t quite his foot over the ball in time as he was closed down quickly, a staple feature of the game. Dawson’s subsequent injury was tantamount to conceding the midfield battle to the visitors and allowed the likes of Darron Gibson and Didier Ndong much more time in possession.


  • His early replacement, Andrew Tutte, is admired by many supporters. I am not one of them. He will always give his you best effort, that much is for certain… and he did have a largely thankless task in attempting to wrestle back some semblance of control from a higher calibre of opposition. I think of any player in a white shirt that featured last night, his name was mentioned the least in the commentary. He is better driving forward than he is being the lynchpin in the engine room and that did manifest itself with the clever pass for Greg Leigh late on in proceedings. A rethink is required on Sunday away at Wigan Athletic in the absence of Dawson as Tutte himself looked like he was carrying a significant knock (before the cramp) and that’s something that’s dogged him throughout his career.


  • Aiden McGeady showed some lovely skill whilst on the pitch and he fashioned the best chance all of his own making in the opening 45 minutes, turning Jones inside and out and drawing an excellent save from Joe Murphy. Early evidence suggests his acquisition is a shrewd move by a manager who has worked closely with before at Preston North End last season and who has the ability to motivate him. There is no disgrace in being outclassed by a winger who has played at the highest level and has international caps to his name, but Jones’ positioning was still questionable at best from a defensive point of view. He is similar to Tutte in terms of effort, overall ability and underlying injury proneness. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s also out of contention for a number of weeks and that would leave a gaping hole at right back in a flat four as there aren’t any other natural options whilst Phil Edwards is also on the sidelines.


  • Restricting the Black Cats to so few chances (of their own creation) says a lot for the strides made by Clark during his tenure, especially when you take into consideration how early into 2017/2018 it still is and that Alex Whitmore, on loan from Burnley U23s, was making his debut. Tom Aldred and Adam Thompson look like they are forging a commanding partnership, only letting the opposition in once behind them, even though the back three were at times playing a high line. Granted, they were the victims of dwelling on the ball once or twice whilst being pressed but overall, their performances have been encouraging. Whitmore looked as though he could provide decent cover for either of them.


  • I’ve seen some comments elsewhere that Dai ‘looked lost’ and ‘was bullied’. I disagree. The team pressing by Sunderland rarely afforded any white shirt time on the ball and if you look back, he was rarely wasteful with it, even when operating in tight spaces. The midfield ‘unit’, such as it was, lacked the ability to reliably win the ball back when Dawson went off injured, try as though he and Callum Reilly did.


  • This was not a game to pump balls up to Nicky Ajose with the drifting support of Harry Bunn. These players need it to feet. Ajose is many things but a target man is not; that doesn’t mean he can’t play by himself up top but it does mean that the type of pass aimed for him needs to take into consideration his strengths and weaknesses. I don’t believe he looked ‘disinterested’ but he was surely a little disheartened to lose so many aerial battles to John O’Shea, who simply lapped the high balls played into the final third up as I’d anticipated. The occasions when he did get in behind, he was (rightly) flagged offside. When Jermaine Beckford was introduced, the meagre threat offered prior to his entrance shot up fourfold. Beckford could have done better with the cross Ajose put in but, like Thompson and Chris Maguire, was surely being saved for another thorough examination in the league less than 72 hours later.


  • A word on the pitch. Described as a ‘carpet’ by one journalist, it must have been a very wet, slick carpet. Players from both sides struggled to get to grips with the surface. It could’ve had a hand in Dawson’s injury and it certainly made Wahbi Khazri lose his footing on several occasions.


  • The set pieces offered up last night were woeful. The few the Shakers earned had zero threat attached to them whatsoever in the absence of Maguire and Jay O’Shea but what was more surprising was the lack of quality from the Wearside outfit in this department and with no shortage of viable targets to aim for.


  • From a Sunderland point of view, the all-round display from George Honeyman should be a real boost; although he has historically been more of an attacking midfielder, his runs to the inside channels and also tracking back to help out Adam Matthews are the epitome of a player grabbing his chance to impress both the fans and his manager with some aplomb; his dinked finish for the solitary goal of the match, a move he started, was a real moment of class. He was head and shoulders above everyone else.


  • Elsewhere, Lewis Grabban showed his versatility, opening up space for the runners from midfield with his hold-up play but had little in the way of clear-cut opportunities himself. His replacement, a certain James Vaughan, struggled to make the most of the fitness edge he and his teammates had (from not chasing the ball for the majority of the evening). He had a couple of efforts at Murphy’s goal but were comfortable for the veteran custodian to handle. Wahbi Khazri flitted in and out of the tie, Ndong and Gibson (in from the cold) showed their qualities and substitute Joel Asoro linked up well with his compatriots in a free role and largely did well.


  • Further forward, there’s a lot for Clark to consider. Injuries aside, he didn’t set up Bury tactically to give the Black Cats’ backline too much cause for concern and the opening salvos of the season have not been good from a creative standpoint in open play. It was hard to reach a conclusion if you took last night in isolation that little but the personnel had changed from the conservative strategy in 2016/2017 under his watch. The first round exit from the EFL Cup marked the 14th time from a possible 24 in my years of watching the club (and they haven’t even reached the fourth round in that period). Still, there’s always the league…



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