Team Selection - Decent
Chris Coleman made two changes from the side which defeated Nottingham Forest away on Saturday. Bryan Oviedo replaced the injured Marc Wilson as Adam Matthews was shifted inside to John O’Shea’s left-hand side, while James Vaughan replaced Josh Maja up top.
Maja being dropped was something of a surprise, but Chris Coleman evidently thought he needed Vaugan’s physicality against a large Barnsley backline; unfortunately, he could not repeat his relatively impressive performance as a target man at Forest this time out, and put out one of the poorest performances of anyone on the pitch. He can hardly afford to cup his ears upon celebrating his goal-every-ten-games after performances such as this one.
In large, however, Coleman pretty much got his lineup spot-on, Matthews was excellent in his new role as he is quickly becoming one of our most consistent performers, and the only time Barnsley really troubled the backline was thanks to Mamadou Thiam’s long-range shot which cannoned off the crossbar.
The first-half was a relatively even affair, with Barnsley ending in the ascendancy due to the unfortunate injury to Darron Gibson. He was forced off after 33 minutes after a heavy challenge tweaked the Irishman’s groin. He started slowly but by the time he went off Gibson was typically dictating proceedings and bossing the midfield.
After this, Barnsley really took control of the game, as their pace and physicality really troubled the side. We unfortunately have one of the least physical squads in a division which requires physicality to succeed, and it shows. We couldn’t deal with Thiam’s power up top, nor the pace of the game Barnsley played which was impressively built from deep by defensive midfielder Joe Williams who covered every blade of grass at the Stadium of Light.
Verdict: Decent lineup, Matthews at LCB was inspired, but our lack of quality and mounting injury list shows.
Tactics - Lost us the game
Going into the second half we were on the back foot, but still well in the game. Josh Maja underwent a rigorous warm-up regime at half-time suggesting his introduction for the second half, many expecting him to replace the ineffectual Vaughan. However, Maja was in fact brought on for Bryan Ovideo, as Coleman “went for it” and changed the formation to 4-4-2.
If not for this decision, we would not have lost the game. We were already vastly outnumbered in the middle of midfield with Callum McManaman and Aiden McGeady not offering the same protection as Lynden Gooch and George Honeyman in the advanced wide positions, and as such, Gibson/McNair and Honeyman were vastly outnumbered in midfield. Evidently, Coleman obviously attempted to bypass this altogether by playing long and on the counter to Maja and Vaughan, but this simply did not work.
Our greatest weakness under Simon Grayson was his incessant demand that we play long-ball football, and we reverted back to that for the second-half. Even if we would’ve played for an extra hour, Barnsley were never going to concede playing against such a tactic.
The goal was a killer blow and emanated in part from this decision; half the players were unclear as to who to pick up in the first corner of the second half, but it was also just plain horrendous defending. A ball should never be allowed to bounce in the box from a corner, yet our first phase of defence involving Ty Browning, O’Shea and McNair failed to clear a simple ball, then Matthews lost giant central defender Ethan Pinnock in defence.
As to why the 5’8 Matthews was even being told to man mark the 6’4 Pinnock in the first place was a mystery - not only did he lose his marker, but even if he didn’t, what fight could the diminutive Welshman have even posed?
Coleman started Vaughan due to Barnsley’s physicality in defence; however, why was their most evident threat at corners marked by one of the smallest men on the pitch?
Credit here must be given to Paul Heckingbottom - throughout the whole of the first half, Pinnock, Brad Potts and Liam Lindsay all attacked the front post, to be marked by Browning, O’Shea and McNair, while Gary Gardner occupied the back post. Throughout the game, Vaughan was designated to protect the front post and attack the ball. Thus, the Barnsley manager foresaw this and for the second half swapped Pinnock and Gardner to great effect, isolating Matthews.
For the remainder of the half, we struggled to cope with Barnsley’s continued pace and power, while looking utterly disjointed, unbalanced and inept on the ball. In truth, Vaughan and Maja actually linked up rather effectively in the second half, but the service was poor and Barnsley found their attacking movement (or lack thereof) all too easy.
I’d like to hold out George Honeyman for some praise here. At times he has flattered to deceive, but he epitomises everything a Sunderland fan wants in a player and he has become one of the fulcrums of the side. In the second half he pushed the issue more than any other and was excellent in Gibson's absence, completing over 50 passes at 90% completion, winning 12 of his 18 duels and carrying out 1 clearance, 1 block, 2 interceptions and 4 tackles.
Verdict: Coleman’s switch lost us the game. He has since claimed Oviedo was “tired”, but changing the formation we’ve spent weeks perfecting was a waste of both time and effort.
Substitutions - Mixed at best
The introduction of Paddy McNair for Darron Gibson in the first half effectively killed the game. This isn’t anything against McNair, nor Coleman, he was simply unfit and this was the only option available to the Welshman. Unfortunately, McNair performed poorly on the day, but will hopefully now recover in a vital week ahead of the Boro game at the weekend.
I have discussed the Maja substitution above, so I wont tread too long on that ground here, bar inputting that I think he played decent in the second half creating a few good openings for himself and his teammates. His impact has dropped significantly, but he is still a young, quality player and we really shouldn’t be so reliant upon him.
Joel Asoro was introduced late on for Callum McManaman and performed his job admirably. Due to his pace and trickery, he was effectively able to stretch the Barnsley defence late on without actually offering anything more concrete.
Verdict: Mixed - McNair was poor but forced, and the introductions of Maja and Asoro were good attempts at trying to change the outcome.
When you see the goal we have conceded it kind of optimised us all afternoon really.
We were slow to take charge and we were bullied really from the first minute.
Barnsley deserved the three points. There might have been a penalty right at the end but it would’ve been harsh on them.
It was hard for us because we lost Darron Gibson after 30 minutes and we are short in that area with injuries.
That was tough and we lost Marc Wilson before the game.
We had to revamp it a little bit but we never took charge of it today. They started bright and we never really got into it.
We showed some good signs but after we lost Darron we never really got into our rhythm.
Here at home, I can see it is a bit too much for us and because of the position we are in.
We were on our heels, we looked nervous and we should’ve stepped in and taken more charge of the situation.
Pretty much spot on to be fair from Coleman; he really does notice the problems and effectively relay them in his post-match press conferences. Coleman even indicates his own part in the loss, explicitly mentioning the “revamp”.
However, if anything, Monday’s result proved that a back three must be the only way forward; it gets the best out of our limited, injury-depleted side that needs reinforcements if it is to succeed.
Verdict: Par for the course.