Jack Ross was bold in his team selection as he made four changes from the side which lost the nine-goal thriller 5-4 against Coventry last weekend.
Both centre backs were changed as Alim Ozturk and Jimmy Dunne replaced Tom Flanagan and Jack Baldwin. There was also one change in midfield as Lee Cattermole returned to the side in place of Grant Leadbitter, and Aiden McGeady started at the expense of Will Grigg who dropped to the bench.
These changes meant Sunderland changed formation, and went back to the 4-2-3-1 shape which has been used most frequently this season. Jon McLaughlin started in goal - keeping up his record of starting every league game this season. The back four consisted of Luke O’Nien, Ozturk, Dunne and Bryan Oviedo. Max Power was Cattermole’s partner in the centre of midfield, with the attacking trio of Lewis Morgan, George Honeyman and Aiden McGeady starting behind lone striker Charlie Wyke.
Doncaster came into the game in good form after winning their previous four games - including last week’s 2-0 win at home to Plymouth Argyle. Grant McCann made just one change from that side as Ben Whiteman came in for Alistair Crawford in central midfield.
Doncaster lined up in a 4-3-3 formation, with goalkeeper Marko Marosi protected by a back four of Matty Blair, Paul Downing, Andy Butler and Danny Andrew. Whiteman started as the deepest of three midfielders, supported in the middle of the park by Liverpool loanee Herbie Kane and Tommy Rowe. Mallik Wilks and veteran James Coppinger started out wide in support of Sunderland’s January target John Marquis.
Brave team selection, and back to basics
After the defensive horror show that was Coventry at home last Saturday, it was clear that Jack Ross would change at least one of his centre halves and would move away from the 4-4-2 formation which looked so vulnerable to Coventry’s attacks.
However, the former St. Mirren boss was about as bold as he could have been with his team selection as he changed both central defenders, brought back Lee Cattermole and dropped Sunderland’s most expensive signing this season, Will Grigg, to the bench.
Of course these changes worked wonders, as did the decision to go back to basics - defenders and defensive midfielders defended, attacking midfielders and the striker attacked, and both full backs did both. It sounds simple, and it is, but it was very effective as Sunderland never allowed the visitors to get out of second gear.
Two defensive midfielders who kept it simple
Sometimes Sunderland stalwart Lee Cattermole takes a few games to get up to speed after injury, but not against Doncaster on Good Friday as he and Max Power - along with Ozturk and Dunne - provided a solid base from which Sunderland’s attacking talent could flourish.
I have to admit I was surprised by the ease at which Jack Ross removed Grant Leadbitter from the team, but his decision to go with his two best tackling central midfielders was an excellent one. The defensive midfield pair won the ball back numerous times before simply getting the ball to one of Sunderland’s front four and letting them create, and score, chances.
It was not just the holding midfielders who kept it simple in possession, as Dunne and Ozturk also took a no risk approach when presented with the ball at their feet.
If there was no simple ball into Cattermole or Power available then they looked to go long to Wyke - who was brilliant all game - and if that wasn’t an option they simply put the ball into touch and regrouped. Put simply the pair played to their strengths - and Sunderland looked much more solid as a result.
Oviedo and McGeady - name a more iconic duo
In a dominant first half much of Sunderland's attacking play came down their left hand side, through the dribbling of McGeady - supported by the overlapping Oviedo.
Aiden McGeady is probably the best attacking player in the division, and with a left back with the quality of Oviedo allowing him to get one on one with his full back Matty Blair (who isn't even a full back by trade) it's no surprise that he was the stand out player.
This is where Oviedo has the edge over Denver Hume, with the former Everton man an obvious danger teams can't simply double up on McGeady without leaving the Costa Rican international in acres of space to deliver crosses into Wyke.
With a left hand side as dangerous as the former Everton duo, Sunderland will surely look to build most of their attacks down that side in the remaining four games of the season.