Patrick Roberts provides the ‘X-factor’ for Sunderland – but boss Tony Mowbray admits the mercurial winger has not done so often enough this season. Former Manchester City and Fulham wideman Roberts is acknowledged as one of the most technically gifted players in the Championship, and yet so far he has yet to score a goal and has clocked up just one assist – providing the pass which led to Trai Hume’s goal in last weekend’s home win against Norwich City – in 12 league outings this season.
In contrast, on the opposite flank, Jack Clarke is the division’s leading scorer with nine goals and has also produced one assist, with that assist again coming against the Canaries. Mowbray is a huge admirer of Roberts and is determined to work with him to help him improve his stats.
“It’s an interesting situation that Patrick finds himself in,” said Mowbray. I’m Patrick’s biggest fan, really – after his family members, of course – because I just like talent, I like people who can manipulate the ball, the guys who can stay on the ball and pick a pass and open things up in tight games when it’s 1-1 or 0-0 or 2-1.
“I believe Roberts can bring an X-factor that turns those really tight games into wins for us, because he can dribble his way out of a telephone box and stick the ball on somebody’s head and we score. And yet, he isn’t Chris Rigg in training, who runs around and puts his foot in and wins every tackle.
“Patrick is quite content to be one of the cool kids and be a really talented footballer and enjoy his training but doesn’t really push himself to the limit to be a really top, top, Premier League player. My job is to try and cajole him and talk to him about what he wants to do.
“Having watched him play for Celtic and as a really young boy at Man City and Fulham, it’s almost a wasted talent really – but it’s not wasted because he is trying to fulfil it now and on his best days he is unplayable. Even though his stats are pretty poor this season regarding goals and assists, if you look at his stats for second-assists they are quite remarkable and in the top five per cent in the league where the guy attracts three players to him and beats the first one and slips the ball past the other two for someone to slip it to Jack [Clarke] who bends it in the far corner.
“Patrick’s numbers are pretty good at running on matchdays, even though it might sometimes seem that he stands and waits on the right wing for the ball to come to him. Out of possession he is running back a lot and working hard and I think the team feels the benefit of having two wingers in Clarke and Roberts who both have a work ethic and have the individual talent to eliminate people and create and score goals.”
Roberts joined Sunderland from Man City in January last year, signing an initial deal until the end of the season and helping the club win promotion from League One via the play-offs. He then signed a two-year deal and became a key player last season, scoring five goals in 42 appearances, to help the Black Cats reach the Championship play-offs.
Roberts is now in the final 12 months of his contract and is keen to extend his stay on Wearside, with Mowbray also hoping the club can agree a new deal with the 26-year-old. Mowbray said: “I think he is a really important player for us, I hope we can get his contractual situation sorted out and I just need to keep cajoling him into enjoying his football and to work hard for the team, because sometimes the talented players aren’t necessarily the ones who are breaking their butts getting back and slide-tackling to help the team.
“In my mind, if he wants to be a Premier League footballer and if he wants to be in a team that can get to the Premier League, and be an important player, he has to bring all aspects and improve his goals and assists because I know modern-day recruitment what points the arrow towards what teams look at is the numbers. If he hasn’t had six assists and six goals this season…
“Clarke has scored nine goals and had one assist – that’s ten goals he’s been involved in in 14 games. If Patrick wants to be a Premier League player with this club or another club, the arrow has to be pointing at him.
“The really clever teams might look at second-assists as I mentioned, and I put a lot of store in that. I’ve spoken to managers after games and they are terrified of Roberts and Clarke and they bring their midfield players over and stop them running inside, which empties their midfield a little bit and if we pass inside or switch the play, we can attack from the other side.”
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