3-5-2 experiment didn’t work
Fair play to Phil Parkinson for experimenting during last night’s defeat - the Gaffer will have learned a lot about his side and several players trying to stake a place in his starting lineup. One thing Parkinson will likely have understood, though, is that the 3-5-2 system, which almost felt like a 3-6-1 at times last night, just doesn’t look like it will work.
You can understand the thought behind the selection: a solid defence that provides width going forward and a stable platform in defence with a triumvirate of central midfield options that can provide both balance in possession, attacking support to the sole striker, and a solid base in defence. Unfortunately, Sunderland struggled to use the system to their benefit.
There were some bright moments as the side created some decent opportunities. McNulty missed several good chances, Max Power spurned a glorious sight on goal, and Luke O’Nien was denied a stonewall penalty. However, Sunderland’s most impressive play came when the boss switched to a back four that allowed his side to play a more attacking brand of football.
Need for energy and pace in the side
One major issue that was noticeable last night was the side’s lack of pace and athleticism. Aside from Denver Hume moving forward, Sunderland looked troubled when in possession - it was almost as if the side were unsure what to do next when they had the ball.
Against Tranmere, the team benefitted from the pace of Watmore and Gooch out wide. That allowed Will Grigg to sit a little deeper and affect the game with some clever movement and passing. Sunderland could be direct with their play because Watmore and Gooch were effective outlets for long diagonal balls, and Grigg combined well with Maguire to create space and movement in the final third.
Unfortunately, last night we attempted a different approach, and it didn’t really pan out. That being said, when we introduced Luke O’Nien’s energy and tenacity, and pushed George Dobson out wide the team looked far more impressive with the ball.
Moving forward, I personally believe the Lads will get success utilising pacey wide men either side of McNulty or Grigg, with Maguire or McGeady sitting in behind. Take your pick for the central midfield pairing. Defensively, the side speaks for itself.
In January, Parkinson might well want to add to his options as he looks to find a team capable of challenging for automatic promotion.
Missed penalties a metaphor for struggles
As much as the result was bitterly disappointing - as any quarter final cup defeat is - Sunderland can take some heart from the fact that Oxford are in a decent run of form. Undefeated in their last ten, the home team played some decent football at times. That being said, if Sunderland are to have a successful season they will need to beat sides like Oxford.
Last night, the Lads crafted 12 shots on the Oxford goal. Rather staggeringly, only one was on target - that was McNulty’s goal.
And that’s the issue Sunderland are facing right now. We’re playing Parky’s numbers game, but we need our strikers to finish the chances we’re creating.
Both Grigg and McNulty missed penalties at the end of the game, but that didn’t feel like much of a shock, if truth be told. It feels like our forwards just don’t have the confidence needed to finish the chances being created, right now.
Sunderland have two cup games in the next 11 days, both good opportunities to give our forward options the chance of confidence-boosting games, and also a good opportunity to perhaps give the likes of Benji Kimpioka and Lee Connelly - who’s scored 4 and assisted 1 in his last 7 U23 games - the chance to show their worth.
Sunderland need someone to start producing the goals - and fast.