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TALKING TACTICS: Coventry (A) - Sunderland hamstrung by two first half injuries; a point gained?

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Sunderland put in a decent performance at the Ricoh Arena but failed to see the game out from a winning position after Lee Cattermole’s third goal of the season. What does Jack Ross have to change before Tuesday’s key clash with Peterborough?

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The Teams...

Sunderland were unchanged from last week’s impressive victory against Rochdale, but were forced into a substitution just four minutes into the game after Glenn Loovens went down with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Adam Matthews.

This meant that, after Looven’s departure, Sunderland lined up in their lopsided 3-5-2 formation. Jon McLaughlin continued in goal, and put in an impressive performance. Adam Matthews came in at right-back and Tom Flanagan shuffled across to centre-half to partner former Peterborough captain Jack Baldwin. Denver Hume started at left-wing-back but was replaced by Bryan Oviedo after thirty-seven minutes due to an ankle injury. Dylan McGeouch played as the deepest midfielder alongside Lee Cattermole. Lynden Gooch started on the right and George Honeyman started in attacking midfield with Chris Maguire roaming inside from the left. Josh Maja continued up front.

The home side, managed by Mark Robins, made one change following a 3-1 defeat away at Bristol Rovers last Saturday; Liam Kelly was replaced by Tom Bayliss. Coventry lined up in a 4-4-2 formation. Lee Burge was in goal and made some good saves, Dujon Sterling, Jordan Willis, Dominic Hyam and Junior Brown made up the back four. Luke Thomas and Jordan Shipley started in the wide positions with Tom Baylis and captain Michael Doyle in the engine room. Conor Chaplin partnered the goalscorer Jonson Clarke-Harris up front.

Coventry City 1 - 1 Sunderland AFC (29/09/2018)

Cattermole continues to prove the doubters wrong

No player is more symbolic of the change in fortunes of Sunderland this season than Lee Cattermole. The club’s longest serving player was overlooked by Jack Ross when selecting his captain and was expected to leave the club in the summer. However, he has made himself undroppable after a number of good performances following his return to the side.

It has been a delight to watch Cattermole, a player that clearly cares about the club, start to remind supporters why he was once a fan favourite. In fact, Cattermole has even added another string to his bow this year with three goals already this term - another coming at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday. Perhaps more importantly this has been no fluke and Cattermole’s role in the side means that he is genuine goal threat - making runs from deep into the box.

It was from this exact situation that Cattermole put Sunderland in front - a low cross by Adam Matthews was missed by everyone at the near post and the ex-Boro man was perfectly placed on the edge of the box to pick up the loose ball and finesse the ball past Lee Burge - right in front of the 5,000 Sunderland supporters.

Such is Cattermole’s new job that even when Max Power replaced McGeouch alongside him, Catts was still the furthest forward midfielder and it was Power who was instructed to collect the ball from the defenders.

This alternative role has reduced the amount of ground that Cattermole has to cover which has been a key reason for his good form this season - especially now he is into his thirties.

LEE LEE LEE Cattermole!
Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Wyke’s absence was felt as Sunderland failed to see the game out

Of course many in red and white left the Ricoh Arena frustrated at Sunderland’s inability to hold onto their lead and secure three points. Sunderland struggled to keep possession and slow the pace of the game down after they scored and Coventry always looked threatening with the game so open.

Sunderland’s struggles to keep the ball were, partly due to the bad day for Josh Maja who couldn’t get the ball to stick. This meant Coventry kept putting pressure on our back line and perhaps gave worrying insight into how we may struggle without Charlie Wyke, who is the kind of physical striker that can relieve pressure from his defence.

Of course Sunderland’s task was made more difficult by the injuries in the first half, which meant Jack Ross had only one substitution left for the second half - which he used to replace the tiring McGeouch with the fresh legs of Power. However, if Sunderland did have one or two more changes available it would have been interesting to see if Jerome Sinclair could have relieved the pressure by using his pace to run into the channels and force Coventry back. This is a tactic I’m sure we will see in the next few months and hopefully one that can work whilst we again wait for the return of Wyke.

Jerome Sinclair’s pace could replace Charlie Wyke’s physical presence during the next few months.
Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Three injuries leave Jack Ross with some decisions to make before Tuesday night

The main takeaways from the first half at Coventry were the injuries suffered by Glenn Loovens and Denver Hume, issues which were worsened by the hamstring problem that Lynden Gooch picked up in the second half. These injuries leave Jack Ross with some important decisions to make before the biggest game of the season so far, against Peterborough.

Whilst Denver Hume’s injury means Bryan Oviedo is likely to start in what would be a like-for-like change, the injury to Loovens gives Ross a decision between Matthews, who replaced the Dutchman on Saturday, and centre-half Alim Ozturk. Neither player has looked thoroughly convincing this season and Matthews was involved in a mix-up with Flanagan which led to Coventry’s equaliser. I would also make the argument that Flanagan has looked at his best on the right-side of defence and, for that reason, I would like to see Ozturk start in the middle of the back three.

Further forward, Lynden Gooch’s injury may lead to Aiden McGeady’s first start of the season; with the only alternative being loanee Jerome Sinclair - Lee Cattermole’s suspension will see Max Power return in central midfield. I suspect Ross will opt for McGeady - provided he is fully fit - and the Scottish manager has admitted he is a fan of his compatriot. However, as we are all aware, McGeady doesn’t do as much work defensively as Gooch so it would not surprise me if George Honeyman took up the position on the right wing with either McGeady or Maguire taking up the number ten role.

Honeyman’s position in the side may have been saved by the injury to Gooch and he will be hoping that he can put in some good performances in the absence of the American to ensure he remains in the team on merit - not just because he is in possession of the captain’s armband.


Conclusions

Before the match many would have refuse to accept anything less than three points from a game against a newly promoted side.

However, the way the match panned out meant it just wasn’t to be and the character of the side should be applauded as, despite practically being down to ten men for the last twenty minutes, Sunderland managed to leave the Ricoh Arena with something to show for their efforts.