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Finlay’s Report: Sunderland’s performances have dipped slightly, but we shouldn’t worry too much

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It was a disappointing result yesterday for Sunderland and it’s clear that the players are feeling the strain of the busy Christmas fixture pile-up, but we shouldn’t worry too much!

It was a tough day at the office
Sunderland AFC

Sunderland ended 2018 with a 1-1 draw against Shrewsbury Town at the Stadium of Light, and after Portsmouth’s 5-2 victory over Fleetwood, the Black Cats are now seven points off the top spot in League One.

This means that Sunderland haven’t been beaten in League One at home in 2018 and are the only team in the top four English leagues to have scored in every match, so this gives the side something to build on in 2019.

Despite this, Sunderland may have been able to take all three points if they could have broke down what was a solid and resolute Shrewsbury team.

In the match, the Black Cats fell behind for the 11th time this season, but on this occasion to a Luke Waterfall header in the 30th minute. Just before half time, the magic man Josh Maja came up with the goods to score his 13th league goal of the season - his 14th in all competitions.

As the saying goes - ‘Don’t change a winning side’ - and that is exactly what the gaffer stood by as he kept with the same 11 that won 1-0 in front of the record crowd on Boxing Day against Bradford City. That meant Josh Maja kept his place up top, despite new competition from Charlie Wyke and Duncan Watmore. Also, George Honeyman and Adam Matthews didn’t feature in the matchday squad due to their respective injuries.

From the very start of the game, you could see Shrewsbury’s plan - to sit behind the ball and try to catch us on the counter attack. This began to frustrate us as it was becoming extremely difficult to break the away side down. On the other hand, for a team that is third in League One and with ex-Premier League players in the squad, we should have the quality to be able to take struggling teams apart, especially at home.

With half an hour gone, Shrewsbury shocked the hosts by scoring through a header by Luke Waterfall. The cross from a free kick, that was given rather harshly for me, from Greg Docherty into the area caused Sunderland some trouble. With the Black Cats having hardly any tall and physical players, Waterfall jumped the highest and looped the ball over the head of Jon McLaughlin into the bottom left corner.

Maja scored again
Sunderland AFC

Despite pressure being added to the Shrewsbury side, they were still standing strong until in the 44th minute, Sunderland found a way through when Bryan Oviedo’s cross found its way through to the back post, where Josh Maja was able to divert it home.

In the second half, Jack Ross was forced into making an early substitution when Bryan Oviedo went off the field with a back injury and was replaced by Reece James. Then, Sunderland’s last two changes were made when Charlie Wyke, who supplied a physical and aerial threat, and Duncan Watmore came on for Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch, who looked like they were both frustrated about being taken off.

The match ended Sunderland 1-1 Shrewsbury. In my opinion, with no disrespect to Shrewsbury, these are the types of teams that we need to beat if we are wanting to be classed as promotion candidates.

In the next few games we face some teams that are around us, so we need to perform like we were at the start of the season - it cannot be denied that our performances have dipped. I don’t want to be too negative as we are third in League One and this is possibly better than some fans anticipated at the start of the season.

Next up, we face a huge trip to Blackpool, where hopefully we can turn the seaside town red and white and come away with three points, which would be a major boost.