Clearly, we don’t need a striker
As Ellis Simms limped off the pitch on 32 minutes and Elliot Embleton came on, we were all wondering where the hell our season was heading.
Forced into an effective 4-2-4-0 with Pritchard as a false nine, it was Patrick Roberts who showed his quality and took responsibility to slot the ball home. Indeed, it was almost like the lack of an option in the center of the box forced the winger to go for the goal himself – and it certainly worked.
Spain and Manchester City, two of the best footballing sides of the last few decades, have on occasions played with no strikers – relying instead on a collection of highly technically able flare players with the ability to interchange and create opportunities from wide areas and between the lines. And, for those few glorious minutes at the end of the first half in Reading, we could add Sunderland to that illustrious list.
It continued into the second half, a proper team performance crowned by a beautiful flowing move out of the back, perfectly executed by Gooch and Clarke for the third. The home side were simply incapable of dealing with the quality of our forward play both on and off the ball.
Then later in the game, Amad and Bennette came on and continued the show and, by the end, it could easily have been more than three. Sunderland’s advanced midfield and attacking wide players looked like they were enjoying the freedom to express themselves and be creative in the final third, and it paid dividends.
Clearly, we need another striker
All that said, surely it’s going to be a hard slog with no recognized center forward in the starting lineup. Attention will clearly now turn to the free agent market, but to be honest, there’s almost nobody to choose from.
Daniel Sturridge finished his time at Perth Glory in the summer after an injury-hit season in the Aussie sunshine, and at 33 the former England international will be hard pushed to get up to speed for a tough season in the Championship even if he has the desire to return to the English game.
It’s almost certainly going to be Max Thompson who, at 20 years of age, steps up to the first team squad as our striking option. The club paid money for the kid and he’s been banging them in for the Under 21s so far, and now Mowbray is left with little option other than to give him at least a spot on the bench this weekend.
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Two minutes, two crucial contributions, two assists, two goals. The Country Durham lad demonstrated how to truly make an immediate impact off the bench as we stormed into a two-nil half time lead.
After that, Embleton offered us control, drive and a range of passing that enabled players in front of him to trouble the Reading defenders.
He’s had an up-and-down start to the campaign but it was great to see him on the pitch for an extended period of time and it would have been great if he could have gotten on the scoresheet himself.
Alese looks like he’s well capable
Playing as a left fullback, Alese’s inclusion allowed Sunderland to play a 4-2-3-1 from the start and he was assured throughout the 90 minutes.
Crucial hard tackles and soft headers back to the keeper, nice interchanges down the wing and well-judged clearances, the lad showed that Premier League pedigree that had many West Ham fans bemoaning his transfer in the summer.
The only blot on the kid’s copybook was a silly yellow card for timewasting midway through the second half.
Where were the Reading fans? For a team going well in the league and a midweek fixture after the cancellations at the weekend, the empty seats around what was the Madejski Stadium were perhaps a sign of the general malaise of a former top flight club now seemingly resigned to a future making up the numbers in the Championship, or even a symptom of the economic woes starting to bite even in one of the wealthiest parts of the country.
Whatever the reason, watching on Sky, it was the over 2,000 traveling Lads fans who truly did take over in the home counties and the players on the pitch responded to them wonderfully. It was a fantastic soundtrack to a brilliant evening in front of the telly, and I hope they all thoroughly enjoy the journey home. The supporters truly played their part in a wonderful evening.