Team Selection: Vindicated?
Chris Coleman made just two changes to the side that faced Aston Villa in midweek, replacing Lynden Gooch and Darron Gibson with the incoming Paddy McNair and Lee Cattermole.
I have to be honest, I was slightly taken aback by the changes made as Gooch and Gibson were two of Sunderland’s better performers at Villa Park, but I suppose that the sense behind the decision to bring in Cattermole and McNair was because of Burton’s physicality - and in the case of McNair, he adds height to our side, something we severely lack in pretty much every area of the pitch.
Were the changes vindicated? Hmm... I’m not so sure. I suppose the fact we won and kept a clean sheet is great, but I’m not sure how much you could attribute that success individually to any player.
In my player ratings after the game I was pretty harsh on both Cattermole and McNair as I felt neither man really contributed a great deal. McNair in particular was pretty anonymous, and though I’m not Lee Cattermole’s biggest fan he did at least have a hand in our first goal.
Coleman spoke after the game about the importance of Cattermole (and John O’Shea) and I suppose that when a new manager walks in to a club, the first people they look towards are the most experienced members of the squad.
I was most pleased with the decision to stick with the same back five. Regardless of what we think of any of those players, continuity is what will eventually lead to us shoring up our defensive issues and I’m over the moon that we got a clean sheet as a result. Robbin Ruiter is a player that I actually quite admire, despite his shortcomings, and the fact he was able to keep goal on the day we achieved our first clean sheet of the season will have done his confidence the world of good.
Verdict: I can understand the reasons behind making the changes that he did.
Roker Report’s very own Rory Fallow did a great job of summarising Chris Coleman’s tactical gameplan earlier today on the site, so rather than bore you by going in to too much detail I’ll instead point you towards Rory’s fantastic piece.
In short, though, Coleman did what all sensible new managers do - he went back to basics and asked his players to follow a simple, structured game plan that they had to then execute with consummate ease.
We ground the game out and ensured that we kept our defensive shape, restricting Burton to long range efforts and set pieces. It was the type of performance we’ve not seen at all this season and I felt that, despite the fact our opposition were so poor, we worked incredibly hard to ensure that they didn’t score.
Our shape varied between a 4-5-1 and a 4-3-2-1 in the early stages of the game, and once Burton tired we then changed to a more structured 4-4-2/narrow 4-3-3.
In due course I expect that Coleman may be tempted to press ahead with utilising his favoured 3-5-2 system that he used to great effect with limited players during his time as Wales manager, but for the time being we’ll make do with just getting the best out of the small squad of players that he has available to him.
Verdict: Perfect. Coleman’s plan was simple, yet effective.
Substitutions: Positive and impactful
The most pleasing aspect of what Chris Coleman enacted during Saturday’s game was most definitely his reactive, positive substitutions - decisions which undoubtedly won us the game.
With Burton beginning to tire, Coleman kicked his game-plan in to action and made a number of changes which changed our stance and shape entirely, forcing Burton even further back than they already were.
Paddy McNair completed seventy minutes and was replaced by Darron Gibson, who gave the type of midfield performance for that final twenty minutes that we’ve not seen from a Sunderland player all season.
I don’t profess to be Gibson’s biggest fan but I can recognise that his biggest strength is when a team allows him to get his foot on the ball and, with time and space, dictate play.
Burton did exactly that - and they were made to pay.
Five minutes later, Aiden McGeady - who had been incredibly poor all afternoon - was replaced by James Vaughan, and Coleman switched his side to a more rigid 4-4-2. Former Everton striker Vaughan joined Lewis Grabban up front, and suddenly the Burton defenders had two men to deal with.
It was fairly obvious that if we could add some pace to our arsenal we’d stand a chance of finally breaking Burton down, and it was the introduction of youngster Joel Asoro which gave us that added edge as the game wore on. He replaced Callum McManaman for the final ten minutes as Coleman looked to win the game - and his changes soon paid off.
Vaughan found himself in the right place at the right time after he used his head to steer Lee Cattermole’s flick-on beyond Stephen Bywater in the Burton goal, and then minutes later it was Asoro’s superb cross that found George Honeyman at the back post to make it 2-0.
All three of the players that Coleman introduced improved us, and it was a massive relief to finally see a Sunderland manager make positive changes when the game was hanging in the balance.
Verdict: As good as it gets. Every decision paid off.
Speaking to SAFC.com, Coleman was full of praise for his side and the supporters:
It gives us something work from, something to build on. There’s been so much disappointment and I see it on the players – they’re waiting for something to happen and something to hang on to – and as soon as they get something that rubs off on the supporters which it did today.
The support we had here was absolutely brilliant, absolutely fabulous.
It was a little first step and there are many more steps we need to take, but it was a good start and a good win as I felt we deserved the three points.
It’s fantastic [to keep a clean sheet] and that’s down to the players because I can’t say we’ve worked too much defensively, we’ve mainly worked offensively as we need to score more goals.
To score twice and keep a clean sheet is fantastic but we also stayed focused in critical stages of the game when Burton were gambling and sending bodies forward.
it’s not just about fighting and scrapping, of course that’s there but I’ve said all along we need to be street smart – football smart – in our decision making and we were better at that today.
It was great to hear Coleman speak after the game. The guy just exudes charisma and self-confidence and with that comes a belief within me that I trust that this man will steer Sunderland away from eventual danger.
He’s not perfect and I’m sure that he’ll make plenty of mistakes along the way, but Coleman is our best chance at salvation and if this mess is going to be sorted, we need to be behind him every step of the way.
It was fantastic to read his comments on what we worked on leading up to the game; interesting, in fact. Despite the fact we have such an awful defence, Coleman instead opted to work on how we were going to score goals and beat Burton - positivity we’ve not seen on Wearside since Sam Allardyce was manager here.
Our next two games are against Reading and Wolves - two sides at the polar opposite ends of the Championship table. We can’t think too far ahead, of course, but another victory next weekend when Jaap Stam’s side head to the Stadium of Light could help to set us on a path towards the mid-table mediocrity that we all so desperately crave.
Verdict: The early signs are promising with Coleman. Onwards & upwards!