It was no surprise to see Sunderland make five changes from the side that took part in Thursday’s Carabao Cup exit. Denver Hume, Alim Ozturk and Reece James made way for Adam Matthews, Glenn Loovens and Bryan Oviedo in defence. Luke O’Nien and Elliot Embleton both dropped to the bench to make way for Lynden Gooch and Josh Maja.
These changes meant Sunderland lined up in a sort-of 4-2-2-2 formation. Jon McLaughlin remained in goal; Matthews returned at right back whilst Loovens and Jack Baldwin resumed their partnership in the heart of the defence. Bryan Oviedo started at left back but, just like at Luton last weekend, played as a wing back. Lee Cattermole played just in front of the defence and he was partnered by Max Power with George Honeyman further forward. The in-form Lynden Gooch started on the right wing as Chris Maguire partnered Josh Maja upfront.
Scunthorpe made three changes to the side that was beaten 2-1 by Doncaster in the cup on Wednesday night. Rory McArdle and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson dropped out of the defence and were replaced by Cameron Burgess and Lewis Butroid. Winger Ryan Colclough was replaced by Andy Dales on the right.
Scunny lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Rory Watson in goal. Jordan Clarke, Charlie Goode, Burges and Butroid made up the back four. Matthew Lund and former Newcastle utility man James Perch started in central midfield and were flanked by Dales and George Thomas. Josh Morris played just behind captain Lee Novak up top, but sometimes found himself on the left as he swapped positions with Thomas.
FOUND: A Striker!
It was noticeable last week that Chris Maguire played very narrow in order to support Josh Maja and, with Maja rested on Thursday night, it was clear that Sunderland lacked a focal point up front. However, Jack Ross again looked to correct this weakness in Sunderland’s game. Maguire went one step further than last weekend and joined Maja up front during all phases of play.
The M&M partnership on paper looks like two similar styles of player - possibly too similar to play together up front effectively - but anyone who doubted this was quickly proven wrong as they bagged a goal apiece. In many ways Maja and Maguire are what Brendan Rodgers described as a ‘nine and a half’ - two players who are neither attacking midfielders nor out and out strikers.
The link up play between the two worked well throughout as when one dropped deep or drifted wide the other stayed in and around the box. This was also complemented by the playing style of George Honeyman, who dropped deeper rather than advancing beyond the strikers - which he often did against Sheffield Wednesday. A good example was for the first goal as Maguire dropped deep before releasing Oviedo down the left, who cut back on his right foot and crossed for Power to head home but – despite not being on the end of the cross – Maja was also in the box looking for an opportunity to pounce.
This is a stark contrast with Thursday and the first half against Charlton, where Maja looked to drop deep which left us with no one in the box.
One player who looked a certainty to leave the club during the transfer window was Bryan Oviedo, however now he becomes a more important part of the first team with every passing game. Oviedo’s quality going forward was has been evident all season and was on show again as he bagged two assists.
Oviedo’s role down the left-hand side is vitally important as he ensures Sunderland have width down the left-hand side. Oviedo played as a left winger during most of the first half as the man expected to line up on the left wing, Chris Maguire, played up front. Oviedo’s constant threat down the left and ability to use both feet to good effect left Scunthorpe unable to cope with Sunderland’s attacking threat. And this, combined with Sunderland’s ability to get bodies in the box led directly to the first goal scored by midfielder Max Power.
Now all Sunderland need is to keep hold of Oviedo, but even without him Reece James is another left back who is good going forward - so the end of Oviedo wouldn’t necessarily mean the end of this lopsided formation.
We’ve got the Power!
New signing Max Power got the ball rolling with his first goal since arriving from Wigan. Playing alongside Lee Cattermole, Power played further forward than he did against Luton Town.
The freedom afforded to him by the presence of Cattermole allowed him to get forward and into the box, which is how he got his goal.
Before Power’s arrival a common worry about Sunderland’s midfield was a lack of height, and with the loss of Paddy McNair to Middlesbrough only Ethan Robson was not a ‘small’. The arrival of Power gives Sunderland a presence in both boxes as well as good energy in the centre of the park, and his style of play complimented that of Cattermole well on both Sunday and Thursday.
Power is an out and out box-to-box midfielder and he showed this in his performance against Scunthorpe. Power popped up wide on occasion, especially due to the lack of a proper left winger, and got himself into the box which resulted in his goal.
Of course, we all hope that Power has a more successful Sunderland career than the last box-to-box midfielder to score on his home league debut - a certain Jack Rodwell.
Overall, the win over Scunthorpe was the most complete performance during Jack Ross’ short time so far at Sunderland. The lads were barely troubled defensively and ran riot up front during the first half, before producing a very professional performance in the second which secured the three points.
So far I have been impressed with Jack Ross’ willingness to make tweaks to the way the team sets up, even after good performances.
It is Ross’ quest for perfection that has, so far, seen Sunderland go from strength to strength this season - and this is before the return of senior players such as Charlie Wyke, Duncan Watmore, Aiden McGeady and Dylan McGeough from injury.