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Keep Your Enemies Closer: A Sunderland Q&A with Roker Report

We sat down with Roker Report to discuss Sunderland ahead of the Tyne-Wear Derby.

Richard Sellers

You might have heard that there is a big match on Saturday. I sat down with David Boyle of Roker Report, SBN's Sunderland site, to discuss the Tyne-Wear Derby, using questions our community posed earlier in the week.

Coming Home Newcastle: What's the general feeling about Gus Poyet? Do you believe he can navigate Sunderland through the next several months and avoid relegation? Is he your man long-term?

Roker Report: Absolutely and I am desperate for the club to tie him down to a long term contract as soon as possible, even a Pardew-esq one. The work Poyet has done since taking over really should not be understated and should we manage to avoid relegation the bloke should be in the running for manager of the season given the magnitude of the task but there's no way the Sky Sports Brigade will appreciate such a feat. Heck, give the bloke the freedom of the City.

Sunderland were quite simply dead in the water when Di Canio was given the boot. There was no coherent plan visible on the pitch, a bizarre recruitment system and things were even worse behind the scenes by all accounts.

With Poyet at the helm however, we are a completely different beast. Quite how he has managed to get this squad of players playing this style of football is mindboggling, it really is.

In truth that in itself is what is most exciting as a Sunderland fan at the moment. If Poyet is capable of delivering this brand of football, with this limited squad of footballers, what he may achieve with his own players is genuinely something to eagerly look forward to.

CHN: Speaking of that, you've just lifted yourselves out of the zone, and I imagine things aren't looking as dire as they were just a few weeks ago. How confident are you? Where will you finish?

RR: Infinitely more confident than I was at the end of October when the club had lost every single Premier League game that month, let's put it that way.

Yes, you're quite right, things are certainly looking a lot more positive down here at the moment and a lot of that positivity can be attributed to the fantastic Capital One Cup run and the momentum that has generated. Often you see sides suffer at the expense of taking cup competition seriously however it has been quite the opposite where we have been concerned and Poyet has been able to transfer that form into the league, which has been priceless.

With a more favourable set of winnable home fixtures in the second half of the season I think we will beat the drop on home form alone but it certainly won't be easy and I'd snap your hand off for seventeenth now, although I feel we may just climb the table a little more and maybe finish fourteenth or fifteenth.

CHN: What went wrong this season? Can we chalk it up to Paolo Di Canio, or is the answer more complex than that?

RR: Blame can probably be attributed in equal parts to Paolo Di Canio, Roberto De Fanti and Ellis Short.

The owner in part was maybe a little naïve and was hoodwinked by both Di Canio and De Fanti, who presumably both have the gift of the gab and a hell of a sales pitch.

Looking back, Di Canio should have been thanked for keeping us up last term and sent on his way with our best wishes as there were already some warning signs to Sunderland fans based upon the way the side slumped to safety following the initial impact that he had.

The club's recruitment drive was also ridiculous, so much so that Poyet has already had to make moves to get rid of a number of the new players who have failed to make an impact.

CHN: You guys know that putting ice in soda is okay, right? Man, that guy was crazy.

RR: As is ketchup and mayonnaise, who'd have thought it eh? Yeah, that guy was bat-shit crazy and continues to believe his own hype in the media without realising that with each passing ego-driven interview he gives he is only serving to further talk himself out of any future management role here in England.

It's a funny one because you couldn't ask for a much better football education for a manager than that which Di Canio possesses, having passed his coaching badges with phenomenal scores. However he was simply unable to transfer any of his ideas onto the field of play.

Di Canio would often wax lyrical about his favoured 4-3-3 formation however, come Saturday afternoon, there would be no semblance of such a plan and if anything his side's played 4-4-2 more often than not.

Then of course, there is his, how shall we put this... "Unique" style of man-management which quite simply is not fit for modern football and it's pampered stars - like it or not.

CHN: Would you rather win the league cup and get relegated or be in comfortable mid-table position all year but be knocked out of the cups early?

Wow, that's a tough one. As a Sunderland fan I've seen my fair share of relegations and while the Championship is a notoriously difficult league, I would be confident that were we to face the drop, we would stand a very good chance of bouncing back at the first time of asking under Poyet.

With that in mind it would be ridiculous as a Sunderland fan to turn down a taste of success at Wembley and a little bit of silverware to display in the dusty, empty trophy cabinet at the Stadium of Light.

CHN: Why isn't Jozy Altidore working out?

RR: Probably a mix of both confidence issues and struggling to fit into Poyet's system. Altidore works well when he is supported by runners from midfield, we have seen this from the goals he has scored for the US National side and also in flashes in the cup games recently.

However, more often than not, he is expected to play the lone forward role with Fabio Borini and Adam Johnson cutting in from the wings and as such he is not always given immediate support.

The lad is also clearly suffering from a lack of confidence which is greatly affecting his game but there are also questions raised over his decision making during a game when it comes to positions he takes up on the pitch and the runs that he makes.

Just this week for example, against Stoke, Marcos Alonso made a fantastic run to the touchline and played a teasing ball across the area which any forward worth their salt would have been busting a gut to get on the end of. Altidore? He decided to peel off to the edge of the area behind the left-back...

CHN: What's your impression of Fabio Borini?

RR: Mostly I've been impressed although I would quite like to see him played more through the middle, especially given Altidore and Fletcher's profligacy in front of goal and given the arrival of Nacho Scocco this may well be something we see sooner rather than later.

Borini is a clever player, picks up some nice positions on the field and is always busy, making him a handful for opposition defenders to mark. He is also an incredibly useful player to have on the bench as he more often than not can make an impact against a tiring side.

CHN: Is Lee Cattermole leaving?

Not in this transfer window, I'd wager. Poyet's pursuit of Brighton's Liam Bridcutt is no secret and neither is his admiration for the defensive midfielder so it certainly looks likely that the Scottish International is arriving with a view to replacing our former skipper eventually - probably in the summer.

Cattermole gets a bad press and while I am not expecting to be able to convince a Newcastle blog of the qualities he does possess, he is certainly a much better footballer than many give him credit for.

Of course Lee only has himself to blame for his reputation given his disciplinary record but believe me, when you watch him week-in-week-out he does pick up a lot of bookings which any other footballer would get away with simply because of the name on the back of his shirt and the reputation that garners with the officials.

CHN: What, if anything, do you need to do before the window closes?

RR: Presuming we are able to bring in Liam Bridcutt before the deadline I'd definitely be in favour of bringing in another attack minded midfielder. For far too long Sunderland have been lumbered with a number of middling, average central midfielders who are unable to stamp their authority or influence a game.

The links to Ever Banega may well prove to be pie in the sky but if we were able to pull off a deal for the Valencia man, a midfield three of Bricutt holding with Ki and Banega foraging forward would certainly be exciting.

Sunderland were also, reportedly, a stop on Tom Ince's Transfer Window Tour of the UK and he could well provide an interesting option and some competition for Adam Johnson, although this wouldn't be an immediate and essential requirement.

CHN: What matchups are you most looking forward to on Saturday?

RR: With both sides looking likely to throw their new forwards in at the deep end, I'm quite looking forward to seeing how both De Jong and Scocco react to the unique and intense atmosphere which the Derby generates.

How often have we seen random players make a hero of themselves in this fixture over the years and I wouldn't bet against one of the new lads being that player this time around.

CHN: If you were managing a team preparing to play Sunderland, what tactics would you employ?

RR: Press Sunderland as high up the field as possible. Sunderland love to keep possession and play the ball out from the back under Poyet and if you can apply enough pressure, especially from goal kicks, you could well force one of the back four into a mistake, or a loose ball to capitalise upon.

CHN: Tactically, what would you like to see from Gus Poyet Saturday?

RR: More of the same. Sunderland have been playing well recently and I can't see Poyet changing much, if anything, come Saturday lunchtime. Very much a case of "if it ain't broke don't fix it"

Whilst looking to keep the lion share of possession in the pressure cooker that is a Tyne and Wear Derby may well be a brave tactic it could well be one that could pay off dividends, especially if we are able to grab an early goal and go on to frustrate Newcastle which would in turn lead to some anxiety in the stands.

CHN: Obviously the derby matches have gone well for you recently. How are your nerves this time around?

RR: I'm relatively calm at the time of writing, although this is likely to change come Friday evening. As you say, Sunderland have done well in the Derbies of late, which does seem to have taken a little bit of the usual pressure off.

That said, it would be a remarkable feat for Sunderland to win three in a row and for that very reason I'm a little sceptical as to our chances. Stuff like winning Derbies just doesn't usually happen to Sunderland.

CHN: If you'd like, give us a prediction for the match.

RR: I fancy the usual rollercoaster of emotions and the standard derby affair; grit, determination and full-blooded 50/50 tackles but ultimately a score draw. 1-1 or 2-2.

Our thanks to David Boyle for participating in this conversation with us.