A View From the Away End: The Roker Report

A Q&A with Sunerland fan Graham Falk of The Roker Report, ahead of Saturday’s league fixture with The Black Cats…

Firstly, tell us about The Roker Report…
I started with Roker Report back in 2016 actually, so it’s been over three years for me. They were having a small recruitment drive and my ex-wife said I should go for it since I’ve done some writing and obviously love The Lads! It all worked out pretty well. Cheers ex-wife!

We’re probably best known for the podcast these days and I have a hand in those, doing our Xtra Pod – which is a preview with a fan/journo/chairman from the opposition, and I’ve also sat down with Stewy Donald and a few of our former players. It’s tiring, but I believe in Henry Rollins life.

There’s much more than just the pod though, we have tons of new writers mixing with the old guard like me so our written pieces are full of varied opinions, which is what I believe you should get from a fan-site.

I love Roker Report – but I’m bloody biased!

How do you think Sunderland will set up against Posh on Saturday?

We started the season with this horrible back three formation, with two wing-backs that weren’t actually wing backs, so to say I’m glad we’ve reverted to a back four over the past fortnight has pleased me no end.

We’ll likely line up in 4-2-3-1. Jon Mc in goal, O’Nien, Willis, Ozturk will be three of the back four with Hume or McLaughlin at left back – I think he’ll place McLaughlin in though as he’s more defensive and you have some pace and trickery.

Max Power will partner Grant Leadbitter in the middle, Lynden Gooch on the right, McGeady on the left with The King behind big Charles Wyke.

Who from your side will be the Posh’ biggest threat on the day?

There’s a few players who are bang in form.

The King got a hat-trick last weekend, Charlie Wyke is an absolute monster up top and is causing defenses all sorts of problem and Max Power is bang on form.

BUT…Aiden McGeady will tear most teams to shreds at will in this league, so if you’re right back is not up to scratch, he’ll torture him – at best, he’ll have a tough day marking him.

If Sunderland turn up, there’s a few players you’ll need to worry about. Will Grigg won’t be a problem for you though.

Which Posh player are you expecting to cause you the most problems?

The default Sunderland answer would be Marcus Maddison, but that’s way too simple to say, you also have players that worry me more than him.

Ivan Toney is a great striker at this level, and could perhaps could even make the move to the Champo. He’s tall, athletic and knows where the net is. His pace against Ozturk could be a concern.

Do you believe you will land Marcus Maddison eventually?

I had Darragh MacAnthony on my preview podcast this week and he gave us the full lowdown on Marcus from his perspective. I’m sure you’ll have seen the quotes by now; do I think he’ll sign eventually? No, I don’t to be honest.

I think he’s a cracking player, but it seems that you’re expecting him to leave at some point over the next year, but you still want the £2.5m release fee – which I’m not sure is financially a good decision with him being in the final year of his contract, and adding in that our ultimate aim is to be in the Championship next season – it’s not like he’s been tested there, and the gulf between the divisions is pretty big I think, so £2.5m for a player who may only be handy for six months that you could even maybe get on a free a few weeks later? Not for me.

Then you have to ask – do we need him? We have McGeady who is better, Maguire is also better in my opinion. Both are in their 30s though, so maybe at the end of the season on a free it would make sense, but I’m sure I get the clamour for him.

What are your thoughts on Jack Ross?

It’s fairly well documented my thoughts on Jack Ross – I’m not a fan. But he’s changing my mind.

It’s a tough one isn’t it? I don’t want to keep changing managers and I believe in a long-term project, but there’s just things that bug me about Ross. If you’d asked me two weeks ago, I’d have been far harsher, but a week is a long time in football, isn’t it? So a fortnight is like a lifetime!

Keep winning games and I’m his biggest fan. Maybe I should be more patient.

Were you genuinely expecting to still be in League One this season, and what are your expectations for this season?

I’m not sure how to answer that really. When we first came down, we blew teams away and it looked nailed on. Josh Maja was on fire, Chris Maguire was banging them in and McGeady ripped teams apart but things changed once Maja left.

We put a lot of faith in Will Grigg and he was just a completely different player to Josh and right from the off, you could tell it affected us. Stewart Donald came in to a host of problems and fixed almost all of them, but the Maja one was a problem that just wouldn’t go away and Josh eventually left.

I think we wanted Grigg as well as Josh, but when Josh went it became a bit of a scramble before Stewart Donald eventually pumped £3m into the deal in the last hour of the transfer window and got it over the line. It was the right thing to do at the time as we had basically no strikers.

However, if you look a little deeper, our big problem throughout the season was that our defence was, for want of a better word, shite. 

We lacked so much strength and pace at the back which teams exploited and we never rectified. We brought in Jimmy Dunne on loan from Burnley but he was much of a muchness.

The problems came in the shape of Baldwin and Flanagan. Your old boy started well enough and seemed like a perfect signing, but he gradually got worse and worse, eventually being dropped from the squad entirely after a horrific showing in the 5-4 defeat at home to Coventry, which still gives some of us nightmares. Baldwin is now seemingly fifth choice centre back and may have even left by the time this is printed.

Tom Flanagan had a very similar path, but managed to maintain his place in the squad, and even started this season bizarrely even though I think most fans would rate Baldwin higher. Neither of them were anywhere near good enough.

So I’d say I’m not surprised we are still in League One, more disappointed, but when our inability to didn’t sort out the defensive issues combined with Maja sale, I think I hoped we’d go up rather than expected it.

Expectations for this season? We need to go up, no debate.

Where do you think Posh will finish this season?

Well I took you to finish third in my League One predictions – so I’ll stand by that!

You have some really good players and bought brilliantly in pre-season. Mo Eisa, Niall Mason and Mark Beevers are all great signings and you managed to keep Marcus and Ivan Toney so I’d say you’re one of the best sides in the league.

Put it this way, if we win on Saturday at your place I’m already seeing the League One trophy parade down Seaburn Beach in my head!

Finally… Score predictions for Saturday?

Tough, tough game for both of us. Both sides are more offensively minded and have players that can score goals out of nothing.

Would I take a draw? Begrudgingly yes, but I want to start winning these games to show our title winning credentials.

However, I think it’ll be a score draw – 2-2.