Team Selection: Bold, but it worked
It was painfully clear after Saturday’s defeat to Leeds United that the majority of our first choice players were in need of a rest and, with the opportunity to field a ‘weakened’ team in the cup presented to Simon Grayson, he did just that.
Only Gabon international Didier Ndong retained his place in the Sunderland XI, and the ten changes that the manager made gave us a mixed bad in terms of individual performances. Grayson spoke pre-match about those playing taking their chances to keep their place and I think that in the cases of Bryan Oviedo, Lynden Gooch and Robbin Ruiter they did just that. On the flip side, Adam Matthews and Papy Djilobodji were incredibly poor and they won’t have done themselves any favours.
That said, we won. So, all in all, the decision to make a raft of changes can only be considered a rousing success.
Verdict: Grayson had to take a gamble and make mass changes. We rode our luck for the most part but we won inside 90 minutes, which is the most important thing.
The Carlisle fan we spoke to in Fan Focus prior to the game suggested that they’d set up in an unorthodox system and it had me wondering before the game whether we’d do the same in order to match their shape.
And we did, sort of. For the first time this season we lined up in a 5-3-2/3-1-4-2, with a back five consisting of Bryan Oviedo, Papy Djilobodji, John O’Shea, Adam Matthews and Donald Love.
The fluidity allowed Oviedo and Love to flourish - and both had very good games - but the same cannot be said about Djilobodji or Matthews, who struggled immensely and were continually dug out of the shit by the fantastic O’Shea, who marshaled our defence superbly. In fairness to Matthews he isn’t a centre half and I’m not entirely sure why he was playing, especially when someone like Tom Beadling or Michael Ledger would have really appreciated the opportunity to play for the first team in a position that they’re familiar with.
We looked good on the break and our energy in attack was useful. Joel Asoro found himself one on one with the Carlisle goalkeeper on two occasions but couldn’t score - still, it was testament to the way that we set up in the game that he was even presented with the opportunity to get beyond the Carlisle defence with his pace and determination. On another day, we could have had another two or three goals.
Verdict: We looked uncomfortable in defence but in attack we were incredibly fluid - it was worth a try, but I expect we’ll go back to a more traditional 4-2-2-2 on Saturday.
With the game tied at 1-1 and Carlisle firmly in the driving seat it was the introduction of our three substitutes that perhaps gave us the opportunity to re-affirm ourselves as the favourites for a win.
After Carlisle’s fortunate penalty they were all over us and it honestly felt as though we were going to concede a second imminently. Had it not been for Robbin Ruiter, we probably would have.
Grayson was forced into some quick thinking and he brought on Lamine Kone and James Vaughan, who battled hard and gave the spine of our side the solidity it needed in order to get through the rest of the game.
Then when Aiden McGeady was introduced it forced Carlisle to drop back ten yards or so, handing us the initiative to go and seek a second goal - and it worked.
Verdict: Kone and Vaughan were introduced when it was clearly needed and McGeady gave Carlisle something extra to think about. Nothing surprising but they helped us to win the game and hold our lead.
Post-Match Comments: Vindicated
Grayson was keen to talk up the performance of Robbin Ruiter, who was fantastic between the sticks last night, and indicated that he now has a serious headache over which goalkeeper to select this coming Saturday at Barnsley.
He told the Sunderland Echo:
When he was required to make saves, he made them, and that's why we signed him after the trial period.
He’d done enough in training and in the two games he played for us to make that decision to sign him permanently. It gives us that competition for places that we needed.
I was pleased with him and I was pleased with quite a lot of the players that came in tonight and who haven't figured.
That’s what the players are required to do, they get paid to play and put on performances. A lot of them have done some decent things, we’ve obviously got to make improvements in certain areas but we’ve been asked a lot of questions tonight and ultimately we came through the game.
I’ve not seen much more than what I expected of the players, I watch them every day in training, that’s where I learn about them, how good they are and the deficiencies they have at times. Its nice to see that they’ve stood firm and won a cup tie.
I have to say, I think that Grayson’s pep talk before the game about affording opportunities and ensuring that the players took their chance to stake a claim for a regular spot in the team was outstanding.
Quite a number of the ten players that were brought in for this cup tie upped their game considerably and it would be unfair if Grayson wasn’t at least credited with a part in that.
What I like about Grayson is that he’s very personable in his words - he doesn’t try to bullshit you and is very honest about his style of man-management, which is refreshing having suffered from the negativity of David Moyes for such a long period last season.
Verdict: Dot on. Grayson knows exactly how to motivate not only his first choice eleven, but the squad as a whole.