Jack Ross stuck with the same defence that performed so admirably against Bradford in our last league fixture, and who would argue with that decision? A clean sheet was well deserved as our defence allowed Shrewsbury just two shots on target - finally we are beginning to see some sturdiness at the back.
Our full backs could offer more of an attacking threat moving forward, and Jack Baldwin was a little nervy at times, but ultimately Ross’ men delivered the goods in terms of their ability to prevent the opposition from scoring.
In midfield, Dylan McGeouch and Lee Cattermole were the central midfield pairing; both were solid throughout, and recycled possession well. That being said, neither provided that creative spark we seemed to lack in the opening half - more on that in the next section.
In attack McGeady was picked ahead of Lynden Gooch, who made the bench after returning from a minor hamstring strain, and Jerome Sinclair was picked ahead of George Honeyman. Chris Maguire and Josh Maja were entrusted to continue their impressive form in the final third.
In the first half, none of the starting XI truthfully performed to the best of their abilities; however, you could understand Ross’ decision to trust the majority of the side that performed so well against Bradford.
Verdict: A solid side, that struggled somewhat in the first half. No shocking selection decisions, but plenty of food for thought moving forward.
Today's team news, in association with @aphrodite1994...#SAFC #WEARONOURWAY pic.twitter.com/GIzTfkZliZ— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) October 20, 2018
Sunderland struggled against Shrewsbury in the opening half. Defensively, the lads were sound, and our central midfield pairing did a good job of breaking up play before recycling effectively.
However, the inability of our wide men to find space or beat their man, coupled with the fact that neither Josh Maja or Jerome Sinclair were able to adequately link up play, really hindered our ability to create opportunities.
Maguire and Honeyman do a sterling job when asked to play in that advanced central role - both provide a pivot around which other attacking players move in order to create space and fashion opportunities. Ross’ side missed that kind of player in the first half.
Matthews and James also seemed hesitant to provide an outlet on the overlap meaning Sunderland reverted to playing long diagonals that didn’t have the accuracy to make any real difference. Maja and Sinclair also struggled physically against Shrewsbury’s defenders, meaning our direct play simply didn’t work. Across the park Sunderland lacked pace and power.
Ross realized the issues, thankfully, and made early changes that turned the game in our favour. The added pace and flair stretched the Shrewsbury defence, and that, coupled with an effective central attacking midfielder, meant Sunderland looked more dangerous when in possession.
Two goals later Sunderland sealed the deal moving up to third in the league with a game in hand. Ross’ tactical decisions had found another three points.
Verdict: Ross recognized our issues and adjusted his side in the second half. His game management is superb. Long may it continue!
TABLE: @SunderlandAFC and @ASFCofficial move up within play-off places after winning on the road, and @LutonTown are up to seventh.@Official_BRFC move out of relegation zone after draw at @OUFCOfficial, who also climb a place at the bottom. pic.twitter.com/3o0tAZlWBW— Sky Bet League One (@SkyBetLeagueOne) October 20, 2018
Both Gooch and Honeyman were on less than an hour into the game, but their energy, pace and flair really enabled Ross’ side to dictate proceedings.
Gooch’s impact was more obvious - two assists was a fantastic return and shows just how important a player the academy graduate is to this side. His pace, strength and vision caused Shrewsbury’s defence all kind of problems. He will be a shoe-in for our next game.
Honeyman’s impact was somewhat less obvious, but just as important. His energy and ability to ensure we moved the ball effectively when in possession caused Shrewsbury all kinds of problems. Furthermore, as the game wore on his tenacity and energy was absolutely superb, it lifted those around him - a true captain’s performance.
Finally, Luke O’Nien’s introduction for the final 10 minutes as another good piece of game management. The former Wycombe man’s energy was much needed, and what’s more he bagged a brilliant goal after less than two minutes on the pitch.
All three subs will have given Ross food for thought, and that is fantastic news for our club.
Verdict: Great subs that found us three points. Brilliant news for our club.
⚽️ @LukeONien— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) October 21, 2018
Quickfire highlights https://t.co/Svrma8FVIl
Extended highlights https://t.co/YFvwKK5yKt#SAFC #WEARONOURWAY pic.twitter.com/txLdxPBGbV
Ross was quick to wax lyrical about Luke O’Nien, who has struggled somewhat since joining the club this summer:
He has been an interesting one for us, he is still very young and the transition he has made to Sunderland, I have been pleased how he has settled in.
I think he went through a period where he was overthinking. He even came away from doing the things he normally did well in training, we had a chat and he has trained really well this past fortnight.
He has been back to what he does best. The thing about him is he is a fine finisher, he works so hard at it. When he gets in to those positions most of us expected him to score. I am delighted for him from a personal point of view.
He is a young man who has made a big jump and he will now feel properly at home now he has made that contribution.
Ross was also obviously chuffed with the contribution of Honeyman and Gooch:
Leaving George and Lynden out was a big decision, they have both been really good for me and bring dynamics to the team that I like.
It was great to have that dynamic from the bench. Those two - plus Luke - all played a big part in us winning the game.
And whilst also praising the defence’s ability to secure a much-needed clean sheet, Ross also noted that:
There were bits of today that pleased me more than when we have played better just because we were getting better at doing the other side of the game that you need to do in this league. We showed that again. It wasn’t an easy game.
We toughed it out, kept a clean sheet and that was important, it gave us a platform.
We would always show glimpses of quality, the goals scored were good quality. It helps strengthen their belief and getting that reward from playing in that manner was important.
Another assured interview, Ross really looks the real deal at Sunderland.
Verdict: I can’t wait for the next Sunderland game. Ross has a great idea of what’s going on in his squad, and also what needs to be done in order to improve. Onwards and upwards!
Not the prettiest, but we got there— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) October 20, 2018
Check out the manager's verdict in full https://t.co/lGX0xVRhpv#SAFC #WEARONOURWAY pic.twitter.com/Do6nNwc8ag