Sunderland named an unchanged starting eleven for the first time this season after the victory at Gillingham in midweek. The ever-present Jon McLaughlin started in goal as Donald Love, Glenn Loovens, Jack Baldwin and Reece James made up the back four. Max Power and a goalscoring midfielder called Lee Cattermole started in the engine room behind the fluid trio of Lynden Gooch, George Honeyman and Chris Maguire. Josh Maja, who had scored in every league game before the trip to Wimbledon, started up front.
Wimbledon made two changes from the side that was beaten 3-1 by Walsall on Tuesday night; at centre back Adedeji Oshilaja came in for Rod McDonald who dropped to the bench and up front James Hanson came in for Kwesi Appiah. The Dons lined up in a basic 4-4-2 formation with Tom King in goal as Toby Sibbick, Will Nightingale, Adedeji Oshilaja and Ben Purrington made up the back four. Anthony Wordsworth and Liam Trotter started in the middle with Mitch Pinnock and Andy Barcham on the wings. James Hanson and goalscorer Joe Pigott started up top.
A Brace from Lee Cattermole
The two goals Sunderland required to come from behind came from the unlikely source of Lee Cattermole and it is interesting that, when looking for a goal, Jack Ross chose to take off Max Power rather than the seemingly more defensive Lee Cattermole.
The introduction of deep lying midfielder Dylan McGeouch, for Power, after 51 minutes meant that the role of Cattermole in the midfield changed. Since Sunderland had struggled to keep possession in the first half Jack Ross made McGeouch, who is more comfortable on the ball, Sunderland’s deepest midfielder. This meant that Cattermole was no longer expected to be disciplined positionally and was allowed to try and win the ball back more aggressively when Sunderland were out of possession.
Although Cattermole was not expected to get forward as much as Max Power, who he replaced as the furthest forward of the midfield two, he was allowed to venture into the box and this is how he got his goals. The second goal especially say Cattermole ghost in beyond the back post unmarked before being picked out by Maguire and hitting a delightful volley beyond Wimbledon ‘keeper Tom King.
George Honeyman’s underappreciated role
When it was announced that George Honeyman would be Sunderlands new captain many wondered what the role of the academy graduate would be. However, he is a vital - if underappreciated - part of Sunderland’s front four which has been so impressive this season. Honeyman does the majority of his work down the right channel and often gets ahead of Gooch into a position which would be occupied by an overlapping full back. His role is what allows Sunderland to play Oviedo or James as an attacking wing back on the left because Honeyman’s movement means the right back is more defensive which means Sunderland aren’t left exposed at the back when the left back is up the pitch.
This new role means that Honeyman may see a drop in the number of goals this season but, especially once Charlie Wyke comes in as a striker who is good in the air, it would be no surprise to see the club captain get a number of assists from crosses played in from the right wing.
Sunderland’s struggles against physicality continued
Despite the positive result, Sunderland continued to struggle against the physicality of their opposition - so much that Jack Ross brought Alim Ozturk off the bench at half time to try and counter this.
Although this did work to a certain extent, Wimbledon continued to threaten from corners and crosses into the box but, luckily for Sunderland, their finishing was poor. Unfortunately it is difficult to resolve issues against physicality without stopping the balls into the box as source. Sunderland may need to consider doubling up on opposition wingers and trying to block the crosses before they come into the box.
Regardless of how Sunderland perfprm in open play, the chances are that this season the opposition will have the better of The Lads in the air. Because of this it is vital that Jack Ross develops a way of coping with this before it starts to cost Sunderland points, rather than just clean sheets.
This was probably Sunderland’s least convincing performance this season but, of course, the main thing is that they got the three points. Despite all of the tactical changes we have seen this season, the biggest has been in the mentality of the players when they concede.
Twice in the last week Sunderland have been forced to react to going a goal down, and twice they have gone on to win the game.
This change has been truly remarkable less than a month into the new season, and means that when the inevitable defeat does come, I have full confidence that they will respond with another victory.