Sunderland's patched-up team in the final weeks of the season proved it is possible to turn every negative into a positive, according to Tony Mowbray. The Black Cats were stretched for large parts of the season, most notably with no natural centre-forward for the second half of the campaign after Ellis Simms was recalled from his loan spell by Everton and Ross Stewart picked up an injury, while at times they struggled for cover in the full-back positions.

But it was the lack of central defenders that really took its toll, with Aji Alese suffering a thigh injury in March which meant he made just one substitute appearance for the rest of the season, while Dan Ballard picked up a hamstring problem the same month which kept him out for the remainder of the season, and Danny Batth then sustained a knee injury in April which brought his campaign to a premature end. That left Sunderland to complete the season - and go into the play-offs - with a back three of versatile defender Luke O'Nien, in between Trai Hume, and Lynden Gooch who had to swap their usual full-back roles for those of central defenders.

Asked about having to go into the play-offs with such an unorthodox back line, Mowbray - a centre-back during his playing days - recalled his own stint at being played out of position by Middlesbrough's then-boss Malcolm Allison in the early 1980s. "I think adversity is a strong bonder of players," Mowbray said.

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"They all take it on board, they all listen, and, as I've said all season, a lot of these players have got strong mindsets, growth mindsets - they want to improve, they want to get better. Malcolm Allison once played me at left-back for a whole season!

"A 6ft 2in centre-half playing at left-back - like a fish out of water really - yet when I look back at my career, it taught me so much about angles and distances. So there's always a positive to come out of a negative, I would suggest.

"Lynden Gooch playing left centre-half in a back three - it's a big call but the lad, a bit like Luke O'Nien, is desperate to please. I've told you the story about Luke saying 'play me up front and I'll get you 15 goals'!

"It's the same with Goochy, he'll play anywhere really. He's driven, he's motivated, he's committed.

"And again with Trai Hume. He has played in numerous different positions.

"He's another great lad and whether I'm talking about O'Nien or Gooch or Hume, there are lots and lots of these young characters that you can depend on and whatever you ask them to do they embrace it and give it their very best."


2023-06-02T05:10:13Z dg43tfdfdgfd