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Know Your Opponent: an interview with Sunderland blog Roker Report

Uncle Menno sits down with Goldylad from The Roker Report ahead of Saturday's match with The Black Cats.

Mark Runnacles

Football!  There's actually football on this weekend!  Praise the Lord and pass the bourbon, we have a match!  Tomorrow Tottenham Hotspur travels to northeast England to take on Sunderland at The Stadium of Light.

Roker Report is SB Nation's Sunderland blog, and it is a fantastic resource for all things Wearside. I was able to catch up with Goldylad, staff writer for Roker Report, to talk about the match, Gus Poyet, and of course, Jozy Altidore.


Cartilage Free Captain: Losing Fabio Borini was a big blow, but Sunderland didn't do too badly in the transfer window, landing the likes of Patrick van Aanholt and Jack Rodwell, and lining up Sebastian Coates and Ricky Alvarez on loan, with Alvarez looking like a real coup. Did Sunderland meet your goals in the window, and do you think the new additions can make an immediate impact?

Roker Report: Being selfish, I'd have liked another striker and an extra central defender. There'd be no obvious holes in our squad had we managed that, but realistically i think we've done ok. We had a few players leave when their contracts expired in the summer and they needed replacing just to get us back to Square One. There was also the necessity to move out most of the deadwood that our previous regime brought in last summer.

Some would say our sporting director Lee Congerton had his work cut out dealing with those two predicaments before bringing in those extra players you mentioned - all who're first team contenders. That's important too, we've previously had too many arrivals not good enough to step up to Premier League level. I think the fans will need to be patient and let these guys play regularly before expecting too much.

CFC:  Speaking of Rodwell, he's been extremely unlucky with injuries in the past few seasons. Do you think the worst is behind him, and how many games do you realistically expect out him this year?

RR:  His injury troubles are well documented but last season he was actually fit. It was very much the case that he couldn't get into that title-winning Man City side but for whatever reason the injury-prone label has stuck. That said, I'm not kidding myself and it's always a worry that there could be a recurrence of some sort - they were pretty serious injuries after all.

CFC:  Ellis Short has comparable finances to Tottenham owner Joe Lewis and Sunderland have a comparable stadium and a comparable supporter base to Spurs. What's been the difference that has separated the two clubs, and what would it take for Sunderland to challenge at the level Spurs are at now?

RR:  Relocate to London.

CFC:  Gus Poyet looked like he would steer sunderland away from relegation pretty comfortably when he first took over, but he kind of wobbled at the end of the season. Now the Black Cats are 3 games in and have 0 wins. Has the shine worn off of ol' Gus?

RR:  I don't think so. I'm surprised you evaluate our end of season as a wobble when we took 13 points from a possible 18 in our final 6 games. Games that included trips to Man City, Chelsea and Man Utd I may add. I know what you mean though, after our League Cup final defeat we seemed to derail completely - with our mauling at White Hart Lane being the real low point. I guess how you interpret it depends on whether you're a glass half full or glass half empty kinda person. I like to think Gus revived us on two separate occasions last season; firstly after the Di Canio debacle and again after the said dip in form post-Wembley.

CFC:  One of our writers noted an interesting parallel between Spurs' and Sunderland's striker corps: both clubs have one striker who used to be good but who isn't really anymore (Fletcher/Adebayor), one who was excellent in a foreign league but who has struggled in England (Altidore/Soldado), and one young English kid upon whom everyone naïvely rests their hopes (Wickham/Kane). What do Sunderland fans expect from their strike corps this year, and which strikers do you want Poyet to play?

RR:  I think Fletcher is seriously struggling in this system. I don't think it's as simple as saying he's suddenly a bad player, and the comparison I'd make is that of him and Soldado rather than of him and Adebayor. Both are instinctive goalscorers and thus need constant service from wide players or knock downs from strike partners from which to thrive. More increasingly in the modern game, systems that utilise two forwards are sparingly used (though the increasing popularity of the diamond formation is perhaps contrary to that theory) and both players are victims of circumstance in that regard.

Adebayor and Wickham are much more obvious choices to play the lone striker role at the respective clubs. The modern day striker is expected to be a blend of the "little and large" strike force combos we saw in England for decades.

CFC:  As a follow-up (and because we have a sizable American readership), is there hope for Jozy Altidore?

RR:  There is.  He arrived last season alongside various other players, most of whom were untested in the Premier League. We started disastrously and Jozy seemed to take a lot of our struggles personally. You could see the confidence drain from him as the season progressed. It's always struck me that he could be an effective player in a good side, full of confidence and creating chances for him. But is that luxury role realistic for a player of Altidore's ability?  Maybe in Holland it is, but not in England.

The issue is that when you're in a side not playing well; a side full of struggling players failing to be cohesive with one and other - you need individuals to step up. Last season we had Adam Johnson do that in January and we may have been doomed without it. If something isn't delivering to you then go and seek it. AJ suddenly started taking players on with intent, getting the crowd off their feet; taking responsibility. In the case of a striker, they need to make the ball stick and encourage runs from deep. They need to have the confidence to throw their defender around and to dominate him. If the service is poor, come and get the ball deep and turn with it. Test the goalkeeper occasionally with speculative efforts. Do something, try anything. Altidore didn't seem to fancy the challenge last season, and didn't want to be the guy with the responsibility, though I do think he was unlucky in his first few games here.

This season, something has changed. The local press have noted a glimmer in his eye that wasn't there last season and he's smiling and bouncing along. I think the fact that Poyet has essentially said he'll be used as an impact sub for the foreseeable future has taken some pressure off him. He seems happy with that role, which is the most important thing. And you forget how young he is.

CFC:  Now, the match. The Stadium of Light hasn't been that big of an advantage for Sunderland the past few years, as they haven't beaten Spurs at home since 2009. What do Sunderland need to do in order to secure a result against Tottenham this weekend? Who do you view as Spurs' biggest threat and how do you counter it?

RR:  The high-pressing game that your manager employs is a natural worry for a back four that contains two veterans at the heart of it. If van Aanholt ventures forward at will down the left then that's also going to allow your many attacking players some joy, so it needs to be a very controlled performance from him.

I think we can take advantage of the fact that your side is redefining itself under a new manager. We have a team that very much knows itself at present. I don't have a lot more than that.

CFC:  To conclude, care to give a score prediction?

RR:  1-1


Goldy's wrong about the score (it'll be 2-1, like the last two trips to Sunderland) but he's hot some fantastic insight into the Black Cats. Thanks to GoldyLad for taking the time. Check out Roker Report, and be sure and give them a follow on the Twitters -- @rokerreport@goldys_logic