Sunderland made three changes from the side that started last weeks 2-1 victory at home to Bristol City. Luke O’Nien started at right-back as Matthews, Flanagan and Love were all injured. Reece James returned at left-back in place of Bryan Oviedo. Duncan Watmore made his first league start for 13 months in place of topscorer Josh Maja.
These changes meant Sunderland lined up in a 4-3-3 formation. Jon McLaughlin started in goal with O’Nien, Glenn Loovens, Jack Baldwin and James making up the back four. Lee Cattermole played as the deepest midfielder with George Honeyman and Max Power further forward. Lynden Gooch and Aidan McGeady supported Duncan Watmore up front.
The league leaders Portsmouth named an unchanged side following a one-all draw at Barnsley last Saturday.
Pomey lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Craig MacGillivray started in goal, with Nathan Thompson, Jack Whatmough, Matthew Clarke and Lee Brown making up the back four. Tom Naylor and Ben Thompson started as the deepest midfielders, with Jamal Lowe, Gareth Evans and Ronan Curtis the attacking trio behind lone striker Oliver Hawkins.
Sweet Luke O’Nien
The biggest surprise when the teams were announced at 2 o’clock was the inclusion of Luke O’Nien at right-back. The former Wycombe man admitted that when he played in the position against Walsall it was the first time he had done so in his career, and on that night it showed. However, this was not the case at Fratton Park and O’Nien stood out as one of the better players throughout the ninety minutes.
In the first half especially, Gooch and O’Nien combined well down the right hand side which is where Sunderland looked their most dangerous. O’Nien put in a typical performance which was full of energy, and he retains the ability on the ball which he owes to his natural position as a central midfielder.
Unfortunately the good first half for Sunderland wasn’t repeated in the second, but this was not true for O’Nien who got the goal which got the Lads back into the game - showing brilliant endeavor to get on the end of a cross within the six yard box, drifting inside from his position on the right flank.
On paper, O’Nien has all the attributes to be a good fit at full-back, he’s athletic, energetic and isn’t afraid to put a tackle in. We have all heard about the summer signing’s work ethic, and there is no doubt that if O’Nien has potential in the position then he will achieve it.
Cattermole left exposed
In a change of tactics since the start of the season, Lee Cattermole operated as a lone holding midfielder, without the support of Max Power alongside him. Unfortunately, Cattermole was left looking exposed regularly as Portsmouth counter-attacked with speed leaving Power and Honeyman too far up the pitch to support the former Middlesbrough midfielder.
Perhaps this shows how an older Lee Cattermole is unable to do the same things which adhered him to the Sunderland faithful in his early days for the club. This is by no means a criticism of Catts, but perhaps shows a tactical decision that Jack Ross got wrong.
We saw Cattermole excel in a midfield duo earlier in the season, as he had the freedom to join attacks with a partner to cover for him, something which made up for his loss of pace in recent years. Perhaps it would be wise to return to the 4-2-3-1 formation which got the best out of one of Sunderland’s highest paid players.
Unfortunately we didn’t find out whether or not the Sunderland manager had sought to rectify this in the second half, as Glenn Loovens was sent off just a couple of minutes in - a sending off which changed the game on its head and left Sunderland with a mountain to climb.