Jack Ross made two changes following a disappointing one-all draw at home to Shrewsbury Town in Sunderland’s final game of 2018. Reece James replaced the injured Bryan Oviedo at left back, and Charlie Wyke replaced the out-of-form Chris Maguire. Duncan Watmore was rested following his recent return from injury - Benji Kimpioka took his place on the bench.
These changes meant Sunderland used a 4-4-2 formation, with the back four of Luke O’Nien, Tom Flanagan, Jack Baldwin and Reece James protecting Scottish international Jon McLaughlin’s goal. Max Power and Lee Cattermole continued their partnership in the engine room, with Lynden Gooch and Aiden McGeady starting on the flanks. Josh Maja had support up front in the shape of Charlie Wyke.
Blackpool also made two changes following a bore-draw at AFC Wimbledon. Donervon Daniels and Liam Feeney came in for Michael Nottingham and John Sullivan.
The hosts lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Mark Howard in goal and Daniels, Paudie O’Connor, Ben Heneghan and Marc Bola making up the back four. Former Liverpool man Jay Spearing was partnered in midfield by Guy Callum - Chris Taylor played slightly advanced of this pair. Nathan Delfouneso and Liam Feeney started in the wide positions with Armand Gnanduillet the lone striker.
Wyke lets Maja shine
Before New Years’ Day, Josh Maja’s best form this season was in the early games - when he played alongside Chris Maguire in the lopsided 3-5-2 formation. It was no surprised that at Bloomfield Road, with Wyke to support him, the young striker put in one of his best all-round performances for some time.
Charlie Wyke’s inclusion not only allowed Maja to concentrate on his play in and around the box, but the sheer presence of another striker for defenders to mark meant there was a stark improvement in the 20-year-old’s hold up play as he was only forced to battle with one defender rather than two.
Furthermore, far from being a static target man, Wyke impressed with work off the ball, and it was both his and Maja’s willingness to work back and support the midfield which allowed Sunderland to play a 4-4-2 formation without losing the midfield battle.
Of course it is early days, but already Sunderland’s two best strikers are showing signs of forming a good partnership - now let's get that contract signed!
What is Sunderland’s best midfield?
Despite Sunderland looking like the better side at Bloomfield Road, it was also evident to all that they seemed rather open in midfield.
Neither Power nor Cattermole anchored the midfield and both were slightly too willing to join in with the play high up the pitch.
This leaves a dilemma for Sunderland, and many had assumed that the two former Wigan midfielders were the best pair for the centre of the pitch - but since Cattermole has returned from injury performances in that area have dipped.
The decision for the next two games has been take out of Jack Ross’ hands as Cattermole’s tenth yellow card of the season will see him miss the games against Charlton and Luton.
Dylan McGeouch will be the obvious candidate to come into the team, and on paper the former Hibs man seems like he could be the answer to Sunderland’s midfield problems. Even his detractors will accept that his strengths lie in sitting deep and laying the ball off to the players around him - perhaps Sunderland’s need for a player just like that may see the Scot cement a place in the Sunderland first team.