Dan Neil's frank message to Sunderland strikers as midfielder explains changes Michael Beale has made
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Dan Neil has urged Sunderland's strikers to step up and take their opportunity - but doesn't think their lack of goals can be used as an excuse.
The Black Cats signed four new forwards during the summer transfer window, with Nazariy Rusyn, Mason Burstow, Eliezer Mayenda and Hemir Semedo arriving on Wearside. Of the four, Rusyn is the only one who has managed to score this season, with a solitary goal which came against Preston on New Year's Day.
Yet Rusyn started on the bench during Sunderland's 2-1 defeat at Ipswich, when head coach Michael Beale opted not to play a recognised forward. That led to fans in the away end chanting 'we want a striker' after their side fell 2-1 behind with 15 minutes remaining.
When asked how challenging it is not playing with a recognised striker, Neil told the Echo: "It’s just the predicament we find ourselves in. We obviously have brought strikers in over the summer. None of them have hit the ground running but we need to keep getting on to them in training, to keep working hard, keep improving. The shirt is there if they want it. It’s all about whether they want to take it and do the necessary things to improve, get better and show that it’s their shirt.
"For now it’s very choppy-changey. I think the no striker thing is a little bit of a get out. If you look at last year we scored a lot of goals, if you look at this year we’ve scored a lot of goals and played without a striker. It would be nice to have a striker firing and scoring but we don’t want to use it as an excuse because we got in the play-offs last year without a real number nine. We need to take accountability for that as well."
Sunderland have scored 37 goals in 27 league games this season (12 teams have netted more in the second tier) and remain seventh in the table, outside the play-offs on goal difference. The Black Cats have taken seven points from five league games since Beale replaced Tony Mowbray as head coach, with the former now getting more time on the training pitch ahead of Friday's home fixture against Hull.
"It’s a little bit different to the last manager and we need to come to terms with what he wants to change quickly," Neil added when asked about the changes Beale has made. "I still don’t feel like it’s as smooth as we want it to be but it’s a process and not having as hectic a schedule now is going to help that for all the lads and all the coaching staff.
"It's just a little bit more out of possession. We have been looking at working on a few things out of possession. I’m not going to give away all of the secrets but it’s a chance for us to work on it in the coming weeks. Hopefully we can get better at it and come away with points in the near future."