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Talking Tactics: One massive tactical change gave Sunderland the upper hand against Plymouth

Sunderland’s first half display on Saturday was perhaps their best this season - and one key tweak to our game plan allowed us to completely overrun Plymouth in a dominant showing which was the key to victory.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The Teams...

Jack Ross made just the one change once again as his Sunderland side looked to make it three wins on the spin - Lewis Morgan was rewarded for the positive impact he made off the bench in the 2-0 win at Bristol Rovers and replaced Duncan Watmore, who dropped to the bench.

Sunderland again lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation which has been a constant in their recent upturn in form. Jon McLaughlin, Luke O’Nien, Tom Flanagan, Jimmy Dunne and Reece James continued following their clean sheet last weekend. The central midfield pairing of Lee Cattermole and Grant Leadbitter picked themselves, with the attacking trio of Lewis Morgan, George Honeyman and Aiden McGeady starting in support of lone striker Will Grigg.

Derek Adams also made just the one change from his side’s last match, a 5-1 win at home to Rochdale. Oscar Threlkeld came into midfield in place of the suspended Antoni Sarcevic.

Plymouth lined up in a 4-3-3 formation. Kyle Letheren started in goal, protected by a back four of Ashley Smith-Brown, Ryan Edwards, Niall Canavan and Gary Sawyer. David Fox started just in front of the back four, with Yann Songo’o and Threlkeld supporting him in the engine room. Ruben Lameiras and Graham Carey started in the wide positions, in support of Freddie Ladapo.

Sunderland AFC 2 - 0 Plymouth Argyle (02/03/2019)
Cattermole (32) Honeyman (87)

Sunderland’s high pressing dominated in the first half

Sunderland’s performance in the first half was one of the most dominant displays of football Jack Ross’ side have produced all season, and signaled a return to the high pressing football which led to Sunderland scoring so many goal in the early weeks of the campaign.

Sunderland not only enjoyed 65% possession in the first half, but also limited the visitors to just one shot - much of the first 45 minutes saw Sunderland camped in the Plymouth half and Lee Cattermole’s goal was no less than the home side deserved.

However, this first half domination didn’t just come about by chance and was result of Sunderland’s commitment to press high up the pitch, not giving the Plymouth defenders a moments peace on the ball as they tried to play out from the back.

As the below graphic shows, Sunderland recovered the ball 20 times in the opposition half, unsurprisingly 14 of these recoveries were in the first 45 minutes. For context Plymouth only managed to recover the ball 12 times in Sunderland’s half, and in the games against Bristol Rovers and Gillingham, Sunderland managed only 12 and 11 ball recoveries in the opposition half in the full 90 minutes.

This shows that in the first half especially there was a clear change of tactic from Jack Ross - and there is no better example of this than the opening goal of the game, where Lewis Morgan latched onto Graham Carey’s poor touch before pulling the ball back for Cattermole to finish into the top corner.

Sunderland made 20 ball recoveries in Plymouth’s half, a significant increase from recent weeks.

Second Half

Predictably, the second half was a much more even affair and Sunderland were forced to weather the storm thrown at them by the visitors in early part of the second period.

The visitors played 45% more passes (134 passes in the first half, 194 in the second) and increased their number of attacks by over 60% (29 attacks in the first half, 47 in the second) in the second half, and all of there three shots on target came in the second period.

Sunderland were forced to ride their luck slightly in the period immediately after the break, and Oscar Threlkeld put their best chance of the game wide from the edge of the six-yard box after McLaughlin had done well to save Songo’o’s shot after about 65 minutes.

Sunderland managed to come out of the opening 20 minutes of the second half unscaved, and the combination of Watmore’s introducing offering the home side an outlet on the counter-attack, and Argyle losing control of the midfield after sacrificing a central midfielder for another striker, meant that the final quarter of the game was rather comfortable for Jack Ross’ side.

Overall, despite Argyle’s improvement in the second half, Sunderland still managed more attacks than the visitors, and George Honeyman’s left footed finish after 87 minutes sealed a much deserved victory for Jack Ross’ men.

George Honeyman’s 87th minute goal sealed a deserved win for Sunderland
Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

All stats courtesy of InStat.

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