Jack Ross opted to make two changes to the side that made it five wins in a row with a three-nil victory over Southend United at the Stadium of Light last Saturday. Lee Cattermole didn’t travel with the squad, and Ross revealed that he had been playing through the pain barrier in the last couple of games. Aiden McGeady replaced Sunderland’s longest serving player with Honeyman dropping back to partner Dylan McGeouch. The other change saw Josh Maja come back into the side for Jerome Sinclair, who dropped to the bench.
These changes meant Sunderland continued with their 4-2-3-1 formation. The Flying Scotsman, Jon McLaughlin, continued in goal with the defence of Adam Matthews, Tom Flanagan, Jack Baldwin and Reece James remaining unchanged for the fifth game in a row. Dylan McGeouch played as as the deepest midfielder, alongside captain Honeyman. Aiden McGeady started on the right with Lynden Gooch on the left and Chris Maguire in the number ten position, although these three regularly interchanged with one another. Josh Maja started alone up front.
Derek Adams named an unchanged side for the third league game in a row as his Plymouth side looked to make it three wins on the bounce in league one.
Argyle lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with Matt Macey in goal, protected by a back four of Tafari Moore, Yann Songo’o, Niall Canavan and Conor Grant. David Fox was the deepest central midfielder, joined by Antoni Sarcevic and Jamie Ness. Graham Carey started on the right with Joel Grant on the left. Freddie Ladapo was the lone striker for the home side.
Honeyman deeper meant Sunderland controlled possession
From the first whistle it was clear that both sides sought to play the game the “right way” and in this sense it was a very untypical league one game.
Jack Ross’ two changes of personnel, bringing in McGeady and Maja for Cattermole and Sinclair, meant Sunderland sacrificed physicality for technicality and they changed their style of play to accommodate this.
Honeyman, who often splits opinion, was Sunderland’s best player in the first half as he regularly got on the ball and looked to make something happen. Off the ball, Honeyman did more than enough to show why he could continue to operate in this deeper position - at least against teams which are less physical, like Plymouth.
The Sunderland captain’s inclusion in a deeper position also brought the best out of his midfield partner, Dylan McGeouch. The Scot has been gradually improving since coming back into the side and being partnered with Honeyman meant he was operated with sitting deep in front of the back four and starting attacks. McGeouch also dropped in to cover for Baldwin when the former Peterborough captain took the ball out from defence.
Because McGeouch sat deep, when Sunderland attacked they did so with five attacking players, as Honeyman had license to join McGeady, Gooch, Maguire and Maja in attacking areas.
Ross gets his subs right - AGAIN!
Despite Sunderland controlling possession in the first half, they did so without creating a clear cut chance and seemed to lack a player who was happy to run in behind Plymouth’s defence to stretch the play. This led to a few calling for McGeady, who had been largely ineffective, to be replaced by Sinclair - who’s main attribute is his willingness to run in behind.
However, Jack Ross’ decision to leave things as they were after the break showed why he is the man in the dugout, and eight minutes into the second half the Republic of Ireland international put Sunderland into the lead with a fierce left footed strike.
Keeping faith with McGeady wasn’t the only in-game decision the Sunderland manager got correct, he brought Sinclair and O’Nien on, for Maja and Maguire respectively, with about fifteen minutes remaining. Sinclair gave Sunderland a much needed physical presence up front as Maja was visibly tired and struggling to hold the ball up and relieve pressure from the beck four. O’Nien made another impact from the bench as, just a couple of minutes after coming on, he won the penalty which McGeady converted for his second of the game - and to seal the three points
FOUR Clean Sheets on the spin
Despite the final score looking fairly comfortable for Sunderland, if it wasn’t for two brilliant saves from Jon McLaughlin when it was only one-nil Jack Ross’ team may have been forced to settle for a point. Yet again the Scot was there to deny the opponents whenever he was called upon, and his save from a Plymouth free kick was nothing short of outstanding. God, it feels good to have a competent goalkeeper, rather than some of the clowns from last season.
The back four also played their part in Sunderland’s fourth clean sheet on the spin. Jack Baldwin and Tom Flanagan hardly put a foot wrong and made a number of crucial blocks during Argyle’s twenty-odd minutes of dominance.
At the back Sunderland are cooking up a perfect storm - the better McLaughlin’s performances get, the more confidence the back four get, which means they perform better, this gives McLaughlin more confidence and results in even more good performances from the Scottish international.
In short, it’s the opposite of last year - and long may it continue.