Sunderland manager Jack Ross made just a single change to the team that drew one-all with Blackpool at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday with Charlie Wyke coming in for Duncan Watmore.
This change of personnel also meant a change of system, as Sunderland started in a 4-4-2 formation. Jon McLaughlin continued his run as the only Sunderland player to have started every league game this season. Luke O’Nien, Jack Baldwin, Jimmy Dunne and Reece James started in an unchanged back four. Grant Leadbitter and George Honeyman made up a central midfield two, with Aiden McGeady on the left and Lynden Gooch on the right of midfield. Will Grigg was joined up front by the aforementioned Wyke.
Accrington Stanley manager John Coleman also made just one change - Ross Sykes coming in for Ben Richards-Everton at the heart of defence.
This meant that, like Sunderland, the visitors started in a 4-4-2 formation. Jon Maxted was in goal, protected by a back four of Callum Johnson, Ross Sykes, Mark Hughes and Janoi Donacien. Seamus Conneely and Newcastle United loanee Dan Barlaser started in the engine room, with Jordan Clark and Sean McConville out wide. Billy Kee was joined up front by Paul Smyth.
Lacking discipline at the back
Whilst Jack Baldwin was the man whose rash challenge gave Accrington the penalty which put them ahead, both he and Jimmy Dunne were often rash with their decision making.
When we play, as we did on Friday night, with our full backs pushed high up the pitch, and with just one holding midfielder, our defenders are naturally left slightly exposed when teams try and counter.
However, this should mean our defenders step off, rather than dive in and take themselves out of the game.
Of course, we must remember that we’re in League One, and defenders at this level are more prone to mistakes, but perhaps it is time for our defenders to err on the side of caution when one-on-one with attackers instead of diving in and giving away penalties, or taking themselves out of the game.
Another option to shore up the defence could be to revert back to a formation which uses two holding midfielders - a 4-2-3-1 for example - which would provide cover for the centre backs, and attacking full backs.
Ditch 4-4-2 for good - and settle on a preferred formation
Many Sunderland fans have been calling out for a switch to 4-4-2 to try and help us score more goals, but the abject performance in the first fifty minutes on Friday showed us why Jack Ross was reluctant to make this change.
Charlie Wyke looks completely out of form, and he is one of the only players who suits the 4-4-2 formation. There’s no point building a system around an out-of-form striker who hasn’t really looked like scoring since his return from injury.
Will Grigg said when he joined the club that he has played mainly as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation, so let’s play to his strengths and do just that. The 4-2-3-1 worked earlier in the season, and the presence of two holding midfielders could even help us to keep more clean sheets.
Of course it can be tempting for Jack Ross to keep changing system until he stumbles across something that works, but I think it might be time to let Sunderland’s new players bed into a familiar system because only then can the pros and cons of a formation be fairly assessed.
Lets play without fear from the first whistle, not at two-nil down
Friday night’s game was a real Jekyll and Hyde performance from the Black Cats, and whilst the first fifty-five minutes were nothing short of horrific, the final half an hour was some of the best football Jack Ross’ side has played since the early weeks of the season.
For me, this was due to a distinct change in attitude following Accrington’s second goal.
When two-nil down Sunderland had nothing to lose, and they played without fear - something further enabled by Maguire’s introduction.
Sunderland started games with this attacking mentality in the first few weeks of the season, and whilst they frequently went behind, they also frequently came back to win - and it is wins which are needed right now if Jack Ross is to build on a solid first six months in the job and secure promotion back to the Championship.