Sunderland manager Jack Ross made five changes to the side which drew one-all at Scunthorpe two weeks ago.
January signings Grant Leadbitter and Lewis Morgan made their debuts, Adam Matthews and George Honeyman returned from injuries and Charlie Wyke came back into the starting line up. Luke O’Nien, Lee Cattermole, Lynden Gooch, Chris Maguire and Josh Maja (who?) all dropped out.
Despite these changes, Sunderland continued with the 4-2-3-1 formation which has been used for the majority of the season. Jon McLaughlin continued in goal, with Adam Matthews, Tom Flanagan, Jimmy Dunne and Reece James making up the back four. Grant Leadbitter partnered Max Power in the engine room, with a trio of Lewis Morgan, George Honeyman and Aiden McGeady in behind target man Charlie Wyke.
AFC Wimbledon also made five changes from their last league game - a 3-0 defeat at Fleetwood Town. Steve Seddon, Anthony Wordsworth, Dylan Connolly, Scott Wagstaff an Kwesi Appiah all came in for Paul Kalambayi, Joe Pigott, Jake Jervis, Andrew Barcham and Anthony Hartigan.
Walley Downes also set his side up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Aaron Ramsdale started in goal, protected by a back four of Tannai Watson, Terell Thomas, Adedeji Oshilaja and Steve Seddon. Will Nightingale and Anthony Wordsworth sat in front of the defence, behind Dylan Connolly, Scott Wagstaff and Mitch Pinnock. Kwesi Appiah started as a lone striker.
We must get more from Charlie Wyke
Charlie Wyke again struggled in the lone striker role, and was rightly substituted just before the hour mark.
Whilst he was on the pitch, Sunderland seemed to use him as a traditional static target man - the hope being that Sunderland’s three attacking players - Morgan, Honeyman and McGeady - could roam around and cause problems for the Wimbledon defence.
Unfortunately this didn’t work at all, and Wyke never got the better of the opposition defenders, and when he did get the ball regularly gave it away.
I would be very surprised if the former Bradford City striker started next weekend, but if he does it must be either with a partner who is willing to run in behind. Whether this man is Will Grigg, Duncan Watmore or - from a deeper position - Luke O’Nien does not matter too much, but every time Sunderland’s number nine has started alone up top he has been far too static, and hence easy to defend against.
The McGeady conundrum
Whilst Aiden McGeady proved to be the difference between the two sides, his performance in the first half especially was actually much of what was wrong with Sunderland’s attacking play.
Too often he took too many touches instead of playing a simple forward pass earlier to a player in a better position. As a result Sunderland’s attacks were lethargic and lacked urgency - something which we know McGeady can bring when he is more direct, but for the last few games he has struggled to produce throughout a full ninety minutes.
McGeady’s ability to provide a moment of brilliance out of nowhere means it’s worth having him in the side - but his relaxed attitude on the ball is something which Jack Ross must reverse if he is to get the best out of the Irishman, and this could be the key to getting Sunderland firing once again.
Time to change formation?
A popular call from Sunderland fans after the match was for Luke O’Nien - who again impressed off the bench - to start at Oxford next weekend, and this is something with which I wholeheartedly agree.
The main issue proposed by this is that in order to get the former Wycombe midfielder in his prefered advanced midfield position would mean removing George Honeyman - who is such an important member of Jack Ross’ side - from that very position.
The introduction of Grant Leadbitter as a deep-lying midfielder gives Sunderland the option to go to a 4-3-3 formation, something which would suit the trio of Leadbitter, Honeyman and O’Nien.
The 4-3-3 would surround the slightly aging Leadbitter with plenty of energy, and also mean that Luke O’Nien’s forward runs were significantly covered without losing Honeyman’s lateral movement which sees him interchange so successfully with Sunderland’s right winger.
All in all, Jack Ross neds to change something before Sunderland’s poor performances start to result in defeats, and a change in formation might be just what the doctor ordered.
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