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A change in approach needed for Sunderland to revive stuttering season?

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Phil Parkinson must be bold and daring if he is to get his Sunderland team firing. Could a change in formation and personnel be the key to finding success?

Sunderland v Gillingham - FA Cup Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Sunderland’s last several performances have been incredibly poor - something both the manager and his team will understand. The three goal defeat away to Scunthorpe in the Football League Trophy summed up the side’s lack of confidence on the pitch.

Scunthorpe made over 100 more passes than Sunderland, had twice as many shots, and the lion’s share of possession. A red card for Luke O’Nien in the 65th minute didn’t help, but ultimately Sunderland were very poor.

As such, moving into the Tuesday’s cup game away to Gillingham, and then this weekend’s league game at home against Coventry, Phil Parkinson needs to find a way to win in order to generate some desperately-required momentum for his team.

As such, in order to generate some positive momentum, it could be argued that Parkinson needs to find a way to load as much energy and guile as possible into his starting xi - in order to do that, the side might require a slight change in formation.

Defensively, Sunderland don’t have a great deal of options. Lee Burge will probably be the starting goalkeeper due to Jon McLaughlin’s recent struggles; defensively, Sunderland simply need to worry about basics: positioning, defending, simple passing.

Ahead of the defence, Parkinson has room to make some changes, and the first should be loading Sunderland’s midfield with as much athleticism as possible - something the side have lacked for what feels like an eternity.

A midfield three of Power, Dobson and O’Nien could potentially provide Sunderland with the grit, energy and determination that’s needed to duel with other League One sides. It provides a balance both with the ball and without it.

Furthermore, O’Nien’s inclusion in the middle allows him room to influence the game to a greater extent that at right back. As the stats below highlight, O’Nien is crucial to Sunderland’s attacking gameplan as so far he has contributed 3 goals and 5 assists.

Dobson and O’Nien have the legs to aid a front three whilst also being able to support the side defensively, and in Max Power Sunderland have a combative anchor with a decent range of passing. Parkinson has the foundations upon which to build a decent side if he chooses to put his trust in athleticism.

Further ahead of a midfield three is where Parkinson has room to be bold and experimental. That being said, the one player that Parkinson simply must utilise is Chris Maguire.

The mercurial Scot has 6 goals and 3 assists so far this season, but he has also been involved in 16 of Sunderland’s goals. Literally 48% of Sunderland’s goals involve Maguire being involved in the build up play; as such, he is needed in our team.

However, alongside Maguie you need someone capable of stretching the opposition defence and in order to do that you need pace. Duncan Watmore is one option, but Lynden Gooch is perhaps a better choice due to his aggression and eye for goal. With 4 goals this season, Gooch has been one of Sunderland’s better attacking players, and his work ethic and aggression are also required to benefit the side.

Ahead of Maguire and Gooch, Sunderland need someone capable of using their movement to find goalscoring opportunities. McNulty’s movement and energy is second to none, he also is actively involved offensively with 4 goals and 3 assists so far this season.

Allowing Maguire, Gooch, and McNulty freedom in the final third could well prove to be a deft stroke tactically. Sunderland have struggled when utilising wingers this season, but playing with a fluid front three would hypothetically allow the attacking trio opportunities to find weaknesses in the opposition’s defence and exploit it without being limited in terms of positioning.

Furthermore, with Dobson and O’Nien supporting offensively as well as the potential of a full back moving forward, Sunderland would have opportunities to work the ball into dangerous areas - though with more purpose and aggression that has been the case in recent weeks.

Sunderland need to trust in a side that can be more than the sum of its parts. Hard work, aggression, energy, and guile are needed if we are to reverse our fortunes. Phil Parkinson and his staff will have used the international break to work on moulding the side into a more cohesive unit - here’s hoping we see the results this week.