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Cutting the Mustard: Hull - Analysing Sunderland team selection, tactics & Coleman’s performance

Team selection, tactics, substitutions and post-match comments - now that the dust has settled, we analyse them all! How did Chris Coleman fare during our victory over Hull City?

Cutting the Mustard |
James Nickels

Team Selection - Sensible

On Saturday, Chris Coleman named a side with six players under the age of 23, four of which were academy graduates and two boyhood Sunderland fans. By the end of the ninety minutes Lynden Gooch had been introduced, making this seven under the age of 23 and five academy players involved during the game.

Coleman himself claimed in the wake of the victory that the impact made by youth products breaking through is in fact bigger than from a new signing;

If you get a good young player from the local area or who comes through the Academy, it’s much better than going out and signing someone for £5-10m.

You’ll get more out of that kid, I promise you – if they are good enough.

They have to be good enough, but if they are from the area and they have come through, the whole feeling is different because everybody around the club is proud of them.

The energy of Sunderland’s youngsters spurred everyone else on - the fans, the manager and senior players - in order ensure that we got over the line, giving those inside of the Stadium of Light a much-needed lift.

Coleman made three changes to his starting eleven, with Lee Cattermole, Ethan Robson and goalscorer Joel Asoro replacing Marc Wilson, Didier Ndong and Lynden Gooch, with our formation shifting to a 3-4-1-2. Robson and Cattermole sat behind George Honeyman, who performed excellently as an advanced playmaker.

The decision to go two up top brought out the best in both of the young players up there, and Josh Maja’s role was very much an effective but unselfish one.

Stats do not quite give his performance the full credit, as with Asoro in tandem the Londoner was much more effective and dangerous. After the game, Asoro even credited his striking partner and mentioned an almost telepathic ability to know where each other is at all times thanks to 24 months of doing so for Sunderland’s youth sides.

More than anything, the biggest take from his performance is just how effective Maja is when given time to play alongside Asoro, as opposed to being constantly bullied by physically superior Championship central defenders when stuck up top on his own.

Sunderland v Hull City - Sky Bet Championship
Ethan Robon and Joel Asoro, front, were both handed their senior league debut’s by Chris Coleman.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

It was nice to see such attacking flexibility from Chris Coleman, who had clearly identified our lack of pace and creativity in attack as the main problem during our barren run of just two goals in five games since the last home victory over Fulham.

Due to the perfect blend of youth and experience, with players playing in their correct positions, our side was well balanced.

Verdict: Youthful, exuberant and balanced. Coleman got his team selection spot-on, as the pace of our play and resolute defending stifled a lacklustre Hull team.

Tactics - Welsh manager, German verticality

Prior to Saturday’s game it was clear that Chris Coleman had instructed the side to play it cool at home, mainly due to registering just one win in 2017 at the Stadium of Light. However, here it was a completely different tale.

Hull’s side had an average age of 28, including five players aged 30 or over - the most senior of which was 34-year old defender Michael Dawson.

As a result, Asoro, Maja, Honeyman, Robson, Jones and Oviedo and were tasked with closing down the Hull backline as often as possible. Overall, the quintet completed 10 tackles and 13 interceptions, with just under 50% of these coming in Hull’s half. Playing with aggression high in Hull’s half of the pitch, we stole the ball from our opposition more times than in any other game under Coleman this season, signifying the change in our tempo off the ball.

More so, the pace of our play was arguably the fastest it has been in years, with Dawson’s ageing legs causing him many problems. He is a shell of the player that was so dominant for Spurs a decade ago, and we exploited this at every turn.

The goal itself was but a microcosm of what we had seen on show throughout the full ninety minutes. The move started from deep, after a wonderfully-timed Catts challenge and was both quickly and effectively recycled before Ty Browning released Honeyman down the right. He interchanged passes with Maja before superbly playing an inch-perfect pass into the channel for the onrushing Asoro to slot home into Allan McGregor’s far corner.

As a whole, the move consisted of 15 touches including ten passes and the finish, and only Cattermole had three touches on the ball before recycling possession.

Every week on the Roker Rapport podcast pre-amble we describe it as honey for your ears, but this was truly honey for your eyes.

Before the game I predicted a 1-0 victory, despite last week’s mauling. Maybe in part due to blind optimism, my main thoughts behind this was due to the general lack of power or pace in the Hull side. More often than not this season, due to our lack of physicality, we’ve been undone by mediocre teams brimming with height and athleticism.

Hull don’t really have much threatening pace in the side bar top scorer Jarrod Bowen. Injuries and the slow ticking of time has taken it’s toll on Fraizer Campbell, who evidently does not have the electric speed of his Sunderland days. Only really Meyler, Michael Dawson and Michael Hector provide a modicum of power and robustness, but this was easily dealt with by our back-three.

The positioning of Sunderland’s midfield three was also interesting, utilised vertically in attack, as opposed to horizontally - what we have seen most often under Cookie.

This allowed the three to play varying roles, and relied upon the stamina and energy of Honeyman and Robson to retreat and cover Cattermole when out of possession. This is straight out of the German school of verticality, so incredibly utilised by Jupp Heynckes and his Bayern Munich side. Verticality is essentially, if completed successfully, the instant progression of the ball into a more advanced area of the pitch and past one, or sometimes two, lines of opposition pressure.

George Honeyman, Ethan Robson and Lee Cattermole deployed in an offensive, vertical three. This ceased the isolation of the frontmen that had plagued recent games, and was solely dependent upon the impressive performance of Ethan Robson.
James Nickels

It’s difficult, but was excellently deployed by our midfield three and requires discipline. As such, Cattermole would rarely venture into the final third, while Robson played as a classic box-to-box midfielder, registering 57 touches including two shots on goal, 48 passes (at 72% completion), six tackles, three interceptions and 15 duels (winning an impressive ten). George Honeyman both supported the strikers in attack and defended staunchly - his stamina vital in such a key role.

In fact, although all impressed, Robson’s game was vital to the performance. We have been crying out for a deep-lying midfielder to both break into the box and provide a crucial link between defence and the front three. Ironically, it is evident Simon Grayson realised this, but his solution was to simply go over the top. Chris Coleman identified the problem and called-up a promising but untested academy product to solved it from within, and he has done so emphatically - for one game at least.

Sunderland v Hull City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

I’d like to reserve some praise here for Lee Cattermole. At times this season you could accuse him of, ironically, trying too hard. Obviously angry and upset at our current situation, he has often raced into challenges at the wrong time or simply made the incorrect press out of his sheer eagerness to win the ball back. The best ball-winners aren’t the best tacklers, but those who read the situation well in advance and responds in kind - and Catts must look to his Hull performance as the way forward.

What we saw was the Catts of old, and what a joy it was to behold the South Stand pumping their fists in the air with an old “Lee, Lee, Lee!” after a crunching, unselfish and vital professional foul on Sebastian Larsson. Another on left-back Aina even started the move for the goal, and another late-on in conjunction with Browning was an excellent block off a shot. His reaction - beating his chest, full of vigour - pushed the whole team out ten yards during a crucial juncture of Hull pressure.

Sunderland Training Session Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The final word has to be for John O’Shea, who was brilliant on Saturday. Though Jake Clarke-Salter and Tyias Browning protected O’Shea and nullified his vulnerabilities on the ball and defending against pace, he was the glue that held our back-three together.

Verdict: Coleman’s tactics were brilliant. A different formation was met with heightened counter-pressing and much faster vertical passing which tore through Hull. They were only allowed into the ascendancy when we tired in the second-half, but our defence still stood firm to their somewhat turgid attacking force.

Substitutions - The 5’8 target man

Once again, Coleman was forced into an early change due to an injury sustained by Billy Jones, bringing on Adam Matthews in his place. I castigated Billy last week after his awful performance and schoolboy defending against Cardiff, yet as is the nature of football, he remedied much of that with his showing against Hull. Although rarely tested defensively in the 34 minutes he featured, he did provide an excellent outlet in the opening stages of the game. Much wider than in Wales, Jones hugged the touchline like a true wing-back, and made numerous excellently timed runs forward.

Late on, the side tired. Due to the intensity of the system implemented, this was almost inevitable in the second-half, with Ethan Robson only making two senior appearances prior to the game and Cattermole just returning from injury. The former will still be acclimatising to the massive jump in intensity and quality from Under 23s football, while the latter is clearly not fully match-fit.

Coleman made a change late on, withdrawing striker Josh Maja for Lynden Gooch in what was a clever ploy that not many fans would have expected.

Gooch was the most advanced player during his time on the pitch, and provided a great outlet as Hull’s defence tired. The diminutive American played almost as a target man, holding the ball up and relieving pressure on the defence thanks to his low centre of gravity and almost bullish strength.

Lynden Gooch (27) was by far and away the most advanced player on the pitch after his introduction, and provided a vital outlet to a tiring midfield and defence under pressure for large spells in the final twenty minutes.

Verdict: One enforced - as is custom at Sunderland - and another shrewdly done to relieve pressure. I though he may have made a third to ease the pressure in central midfield, but that is all purely semantics after a victory.

Post-match comments - Cookie (doesn’t) crumble

First of all, let me apologise for that sub-heading. Here’s Coleman’s comments:

We didn’t continue that [spirit and performance] in the second half [last weekend] in the same vein and ended up losing heavily. I thought today the spirit was brilliant. The goal we scored – I don’t think any team I’ve ever managed have scored a goal as good as that.

I thought it was absolutely fabulous. The passing, the movement and the finish was brilliant. There were one or two scary moments for us but until they had a really good chance it was all us.

We set the tempo in the first half, we dictated things and I thought it was a very good performance. We know they are lively and we know they are young and inexperienced.

I thought young [Ethan] Robson was fantastic. Ideally, we shouldn’t be giving them as much exposure as we are in these games but it’s brilliant for them. The experience of the other boys pulled them through, they encouraged them, kept them going and supported them.

All round, the lads did a great job today.

Sunderland v Hull City - Sky Bet Championship
Cookie looking on during the second-half on Saturday.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Those were his thoughts immediately after the game, and as usual they were spot on. Hard to disagree, eh?

However, just yesterday the club released more of Coleman’s post-match comments:

Men’s football is different to under-23s football. I keep saying that. If you are bottom of the league and you are in a relegation dogfight you find a bit out about yourself and I thought.

He [Clarke-Salter] was terrific. There were one or two moments when he got caught in between. You expect that because he is new. His first game in Cardiff was his first game for seven weeks so he is playing catch up. His intent and personality oozed class and determination.

I thought John O’Shea and Lee Cattermole were absolutely brilliant. They led by example. Tyias Browning is getting better and better with more experience.

I have stood here after a poor performance or a defeat, we look at it now – it is another win, five clean sheets in 11 games. It’s not all bad. We have got things to work on, there are loads of other battles but let’s enjoy this win because the whole team deserve a pat on the back.

I love listening to Chris Coleman speak. Each week it is becoming increasingly more and more difficult to pick holes in anything he says.

The thing with Coleman is, all this doesn't just seem like platitudes. Maybe it’s his record, his charisma or just me being naive. Whenever he talks about games he is pretty much spot on; whether we win or lose he is so clear in his analysis of the performance - unlike previous managers who’d just baffle the living daylights out of you.

He doesn’t just try and pull the wool over our eyes like Simon Grayson did. He tells it straight, but does it so it seems like a positive - unlike David Moyes, where every press conference was a funeral. Coleman irrevocably has the same aura that Sam Allardyce and Roy Keane had, but with a unique kind of charisma and personability.

Verdict: Huge win in a genuine six-pointer. There are no other ways of looking at it. However, it was just one game, and we need to desperately follow this up and record back-to-back wins in the league for the first time since November 2016.

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