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Talking Tactics: How plucky Shrewsbury came up with the perfect gameplan to frustrate Sunderland

Away side comes to defend, conceding from a set-piece, coming from a goal behind, unbeaten at home - its Sunderland’s season so far, just without a winning goal.

Sunderland AFC

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Jack Ross named an unchanged side following his Sunderland side’s 1-0 win over Bradford City on Boxing Day.

This meant Sunderland continued with the 4-2-3-1 formation with McLaughlin in goal, O’Nien, Flanagan, Baldwin and Oviedo in defence; Power and Cattermole as a double-pivote behind the attacking trio of Gooch, Maguire and McGeady. Josh Maja again started alone up front.

Sam Ricketts made two changes to his Shrewsbury starting eleven following a 2-1 defeat at Accrington Stanley on Boxing Day. Lennell John-Lewis and Alex Gilliead came in for Aaron Amadi-Holloway and Fejiri Okenabirhie.

This meant that the Shrews lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Steve Arnold started in goal, protected by a back four of James Bolton, Mat Sadler, Luke Waterfall and Ryan Haynes. Anthony Grant started as the anchor of the midfield, with Gilliead, Oliver Norburn, Greg Docherty and John-Lewis starting in-front of him. Josh Laurent started as the lone striker.

Sunderland AFC 1 - 1 Shrewsbury Town (29/12/2018)

Shrewsbury sat in

On boxing day against Bradford Sunderland clearly employed a tactic of playing long balls wide to either winger or full backs. This is something Shrewsbury had clearly picked up on, as they sat in a 4-1-4-1 formation with their wide midfielders marking Sunderland's full backs and their full backs staying tight on the home side's wingers. They also let Sunderland's two centre backs have the ball, backing their superior height in wide positions to win these long balls and break up Sunderland's attacks in their infancy.

This is why many Sunderland fans had noticed the absence of captain Honeyman; the man who is normally tasked with linking midfield and attack. It was clear that Sunderland needed to start moving the ball through the lines, and it is no coincidence that the goal, on the stroke of half time, came when Sunderland worked the ball wide on the floor rather than going wide directly from the central defenders.

However, without the option of bringing on a player to link midfield and attack Jack Ross decided to fight fire with fire, and brought on his most physical player as he looked for a winner in the second half by going toe-to-toe with Shrewsbury’s physicality.

Shrewsbury’s midfield five - Gilliead (circled blue) is only out of position due to pressing the ball carrier

Charlie Wyke

Without the option of a true "number ten" on the bench, Jack Ross decided to stick with a slight more direct style, but he introduced target man Charlie Wyke after 55 minutes to allow Sunderland to get into the final third without their long balls being cut out by Shrewsbury's defenders.

This is something which worked to an extend, Sunderland clearly got into the final third more frequently, but once they got their they were - in my opinion at least - too reliant on the former Carlisle striker.

In the first half, Sunderland actually looked threatening once they got in and around the Shrewsbury penalty area and this was mainly by getting to the byline and cutting balls back across the box.

However, in the second they looked for Wyke too often when sometimes an early ball across the six yard box would have been better.

This is of course something Sunderland need to be wary of going forward - if they are looking got Wyke at every opportunity, he will become less and less effective. However, when looking for a winner with time ticking away players can be forgiven for looking to get the ball forward via the fastest possible route.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

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