Sunderland started in a familiar 4-2-3-1 formation despite making six changes from the team that gained a credible point away at Luton on Saturday.
Alim Ozturk replaced Glenn Loovens in the heart of defence, natural left back Denver Hume came in for the injured Matthews at right back, and Reece James replaced Costa Rican international Bryan Oviedo at left back in a like-for-like change. Sunderland’s Mr. Marmite Lee Cattermole replaced teenage sensation Bali Mumba as Luke O’Nien came in for Gooch on the right, and England under-19 international Elliot Embleton’s first senior start pushed Chris Maguire into a central striker role at the expense of the in-form Josh Maja.
Sheffield Wednesday set up in a 3-4-1-2 formation as they made seven changes to the side that drew one all with Hull City in the Championship on Saturday.
Joe Wildsmith replaced Dawson in goal as Sam Hutchinson and Pudil dropped out of the back three, and they were replaced by Nielsen and Van Aken who flanked Tom Lees. Liam Palmer replaced Ashley Baker at right wing back as the experienced George Boyd replaced Fox on the left side, whilst Alex Hunt made his debut alongside Barry Bannan in central midfield. North-East native Adam Reach started behind former Sunderland marksman Steven Fletcher and Marco Matias.
MISSING: A Striker!
With Sunderland’s only fit striker Josh Maja rested for the first 66 minutes, Chris Maguire acted as the furthest forward of Sunderland’s attacking players. There were obvious pros and cons to this system as Sunderland’s front four seemed even more fluid than at Luton, as Honeyman often advanced beyond the striker Maguire. However, Sunderland were also left without a main man to pick out in the box - the sooner Charlie Wyke is available the better when it comes to solving the problem that Sunderland have had in all of their first three games this season.
Despite the drawbacks of playing a “False 9” instead of an out and out striker, Sunderland certainly had a plan in attack; both Honeyman and one of the wide attackers - Embleton and O’Nien - were expected to run beyond Maguire as he dropped deep and drifted wide. Unfortunately the three players behind Maguire were neither quick enough nor prudent enough to make this a truly attacking tactic.
Unfortunately for Sunderland injuries elsewhere in the squad dictated that Maja was to be left on the bench, and Jack Ross decided to also rest players such as Lynden Gooch, who would have added pace and direct running to their attacking line and given the false nine a better chance of working.
Sunderland’s pressing worked early on
There is little doubt that Sunderland were the better of the two sides before Sheffield Wednesday’s first goal which came after around half an hour. This period saw Sunderland make Wednesday feel uncomfortable in possession as the Lads pressed high up the pitch, putting pressure on the three centre backs of the Sheffield club.
Due to Wednesday’s use of a system with three at the back, Sunderland often appeared to play a 4-4-2 formation when without the ball as George Honeyman joined Chris Maguire to put pressure on the three central defenders whenever Wednesday attempted to play the ball out from the back.
This high pressing by Sunderland’s attacking players has been a theme we’ve witnessed in all of our games so far this season - Jack Ross wants to utilise the youthful nature of his Sunderland squad rather than attempting to shoehorn players into a style of play they don’t suit.
Overall, it is hard to take too much from a game where both sides made a number of changes. However, Sunderland can take heart from their performance; especially before the first goal.
Jack Ross’ side showed flashes of creativity up front, especially in the movement of the front four, which means they can look forward with optimism to the return of Jerome Sinclair and the availability of Charlie Wyke, both of whom could address the lack of cutting edge which plagued Sunderland throughout the game.