Roker Report is an inestimable source of all things Sunderland, and we had the pleasure of chatting with Gavin about how his side has been doing this season among other topics. Click here to check out the reverse interview we gave Roker Report about Everton.
RBM - This season is one of parity in the Premier League - a couple of wins takes you from the relegation zone to Europe. What were your expectations going into the season?
RR - I think that our transfer business pretty much spelled out which direction the club wanted to go. We brought in players with Premier League experience, spent very little, and conveyed the message that we wanted to have a much more settled, drama-free season.
I’ll take that. On paper, last season looked very good for us – we beat loads of the top teams, got to a cup final and beat Newcastle twice. Behind the face of it, though, we struggled for the most part and it took a mental run at the end of the campaign to keep us in the league. I’d rather we have a boring, tedious season. The likelihood of that happening, knowing Sunderland, is always going to be slim.
RBM - You've probably heard enough about Southampton to last you a lifetime. Other than that game, how has your season been so far?
RR - Boring and tedious, just how I like it. We’ve drawn a load, which isn’t a bad thing (I’m really selling being a Sunderland supporter here, aren’t I?) but my outlook could have been a whole lot different if we hadn’t of beaten Palace on Monday. That was a huge win. We had to scrap and battle for the three points and got some favourable decisions from the ref for once.
Going out of the cup was a kick in the bollocks, especially as we did so well in that competition last season. We don’t have enough pace in the squad and our squad has been riddled with injuries so we’ve struggled to get going. Our two most creative players, Ricky Alvarez and Emmanuele Giaccherini, have been missing for most of the season and it’s shown – we’ve not scored a great deal and look toothless in the final third.
And aye, Southampton. I prefer to just laugh at that and pretend it was just a hilarious dream.
RBM - The last time we spoke the Black Cats youth setup was looking very promising. Have any of those players broken through this season?
RR - Ha, don’t be daft.
I’m a massive advocate for our development team but it seems the first team management have little faith in those coming through. Tom Robson, arguably the most promising talent in the under 21’s squad, won’t find a better opportunity than now to throw his name into the hat as we’ve got massive injury problems in defence – Patrick Van Aanholt is out for at least a month now, and Robson is probably the next actual left back we have in line. That said, Gus will probably select Anthony Reveillere to play there on Sunday with Santiago Vergini at right back.
Other than that, we’ve got Duncan Watmore making a name for himself with Robbie Stockdale’s side and he should definitely be making the matchday squads, as his pace and direct style would be a massive boost to the current squad. My guess is that the manager just doesn’t think that these lads are ready yet, which is a shame.
RBM - How about Gus Poyet, has he been living up to expectations? Are you happy with what he's done as far as tactics and squad rotation go?
RR - He was brought to the club in order to keep us in the league and he did just that, and more. How much input did Gus have in that run towards the end of the season that saved us? Who knows. It’s common knowledge that he’d pretty much given up after the Spurs defeat, and it’s a trait which occasionally rears its ugly head whenever we lose games. He likes to shift the blame to the chairman and the Sporting Director when things go tits up, as they did against Southampton.
I do like Gus though, and you can see what he’s trying to do. We’ve shifted to a possession-based style and he’s helped Lee Cattermole transform into a genuinely class midfielder, but he needs to learn to be more understanding. If we give him time, and back him with the money to sign the right players, we’ll do alright I think. It’s clear we’re lacking pace all over the park and it’s hard to judge him until he’s got ‘his’ squad.
RBM - Who would you say are the best players on the Sunderland squad so far? Are you expecting lots of activity in the January transfer window?
RR - Patrick Van Aanholt has been superb since signing, and the amount we paid for him makes his start to life as a Sunderland player even sweeter. Fortunately for Everton, he’s knackered for at least a month so won’t play at the weekend.
Other than that, the likes of John O’Shea, Lee Cattermole and – when he can be arsed – Steven Fletcher have done alright. Like I said earlier, it’s been a fairly boring start for us and, as a result, few players have stood out thus far.
I’d like to think we’re going to go out and sign five or six players in January but I doubt that will be the case. The main priority has to be signing defenders, because we are lacking chronically in that department. We need pace in pretty much every area of the field, but particularly in attack. We are so easy to defend against the majority of the time.
RBM - Finally, a score prediction from you for Sunday? Which players (on either side) do you think will have a good game?
RR - Lee Cattermole and Patrick Van Aanholt are both missing and have been two of our best players, so it’s advantage Everton from that standpoint. Hopefully Steven Fletcher carries on from where he started on Monday and causes your defence some bother, but that all hinges on the service he gets.
I’m going for a one-all draw. It’s important that we don’t lose, because our run of games coming up won’t be easy, and I can see Gus being quite defensive from the off.