Width from the wingers, and Maguire in space
After many of the poor performances under Jack Ross I have written this column and complained about Sunderland’s lack of width going forward leading to a lack of space for our attacking players to operate in and create chances.
However, from the first whistle to the last it was clear that Phil Parkinson wanted his wingers to keep wide, stretching the play and allowing his number ten, or second striker, to have as much space as possible from which to drop deep and link the play, and to also drift wide and get up and support Will Grigg up front.
Frankly, these conditions seem perfect for Chris Maguire, who is a player who wants to be involved - he performs at his best when give the freedom to go searching for the ball in deeper areas of the pitch, and also get into a battle with opposition centre backs.
Asking his wingers to stay wide may seem like a pretty straight forward tactic but it has tangible benefits across Sunderland’s front four. It not only allows the wingers to simplify their game - Gooch and Watmore can both concentrate on making direct runs at goal from these wide areas rather than trying to play the role of playmaker - but the number ten also has most space to create from, and when Sunderland can create more chances whoever is their striker can only benefit.
With their team three goals ahead at half time, supporters of many other clubs would have been ready to relax and enjoy an exhibition style second half - however, Sunderland fans do not enjoy that luxury and know only too well that it would be oh so very Sunderland to throw the game away or at least concede early, putting ourselves under huge pressure.
However, Phil Parkinson and his players deserve immense credit for the way they played out the second half. Tranmere will have been right up for the second period, knowing that if they came out firing and grabbed an early goal it would be game on, but Sunderland simply didn’t allow it and were happy to start playing keep ball without losing the threat of Watmore, Grigg and Gooch running in behind the Tranmere defence.
Ultimately, Sunderland’s reward for this good second half possessional dominance came in the latter stages of the game once the visitors had started to lose hope of getting back into it. The fresh legs of McNulty added an extra element to Sunderland’s attack, eventually leading to Will Grigg’s first league goal of the season.
Parkinson’s appointment was met by a feeling of apathy amongst some of the Sunderland fans, but Tuesday night’s result, and more importantly the manor of the performance will have gone a long way in proving some of his doubters wrong - for now, at least.