Jack Ross made a trio of changes following Sunderland’s frustrating draw at Oxford United on Saturday. Adam Matthews was replaced by Luke O’Nien at right back, Lynden Gooch came in for Max Power in central midfield and Duncan Watmore started on the right in place of Lewis Morgan.
This meant that Sunderland again lined up in a 4-3-3 formation. Jon McLaughlin was in goal, protected by a back four of O’Nien, Jack Baldwin, Jimmy Dunne and Reece James. Grant Leadbitter started at the base of midfield, with Gooch and George Honeyman in the more advanced midfield positions. Watmore started on the right, and Aiden McGeady on the left of lone striker Will Grigg who made his home debut.
Terry McPhillips made just two changes following his Blackpool side’s two-nil win at home to Walsall at the weekend. Anthony Evans and Matthew Virtue-Thick came in for Chris Long and Donervon Daniels.
The visitors were forced into making an early change, as Marc Bola was replaced by Liam Feeney after just seven minutes. This meant they lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation for most of the game. Mark Howard started in goal, with a back four of Oliver Turton, Ben Heneghan, Curtis Tilt and Harry Pritchard (who moved to left back following Bola’s injury) making up a flat back four. Virtue-Thick and Jordan Thompson started in holding midfield, with a trio of Nathan Delfouneso, Evans and Feeney behind lone striker Armand Gnanduillet.
We’re actually good at corners now
Sunderland scored their second goal from a corner in four days, and Grant Leadbitter’s quality from dead ball situations is starting to show already.
The former Middlesbrough and Ipswich midfielder has seemingly solved our corner issue, and is showing that it has been the delivery from set pieces and not our lack of physicality which has let us down - something which should come as no surprise since we have seen Emanuele Giaccherini score a header from a corner in the past.
The importance of providing a threat from corners cannot be underestimated, especially since as a team, Sunderland have very few difficulties in getting the ball into the final third, and the more we can create when crosses are deflected behind, the more chance we have of breaking the run of only scoring one goal.
More direct runners = More chances created
I think everyone who watched the game on Tuesday night would accept that Lynden Gooch was far from his best in an unfamiliar role on the right of central midfield, but the introduction of the American and Duncan Watmore into the starting eleven certainly added some much needed urgency to Sunderland’s attacking play.
The directness of Watmore and Gooch down the right actually served to highlight how absent Aiden McGeady was from proceedings, and begs the question whether Sunderland as a team actually benefit when the Irishman isn’t in the squad - from all his undoubted quality, for too much of games he slows the pace of Sunderland’s attacks, and without an overlapping wing back this something not suited to our style of play.
Despite the poor performance of McGeady, Sunderland still created a number of changes - the best of which fell to Grigg who should have bagged himself a brace on the night. Unfortunately, Sunderland’s forward players just weren’t quite at it, and the final ball (or finish) let them down, but there is no doubt that the number of chances created signals a huge improvement from recent weeks.