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Talking Tactics: Did Sunderland’s late switch back to 4-4-2 leave us exposed again defensively?

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Despite Sunderland’s dominance for the majority of the game they were made to pay for simple defensive and tactical mistakes at Peterborough, resulting in ANOTHER 1-1 draw - the story of our season.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Overloading from out wide worked well again

The most enjoyable aspect of Sunderland’s play against Peterborough was perhaps the rate with which we exposed Peterborough’s lack of cover down their flanks - thus turning their biggest strength into their biggest weakness.

All the talk going into the game was about whether the pace and power of Peterborough’s two wide players, Marcus Maddison and Siriki Dembélé, would cause Sunderland problems but due to the frequency of our attacks we forced our opposition further and further back in the first half, doubling up on both sides to expose the fact that their two best players perhaps aren’t the greatest when it comes to defensive and tactical positioning.

It’s hardly rocket science but it does make sense to use the attacking prowess we have down the flanks to our advantage. Bryan Oviedo may not be much of a formidable defender but he’s one of the best full backs in this league from an attacking perspective, so the key to opening up Peterborough in that opening 45 minutes was always going to be in how we best utilised the strengths of him, McGeady and Morgan.

Despite the best efforts of our wide players, however, the final ball was sorely lacking. Peterborough attempted to make up for the fact they were struggling down the flanks by sitting deep, with their two central midfielders practically playing as the last line of defence at times, and it worked as they cut out each and every Sunderland effort to get the ball into dangerous positions around their box.

So whilst we dominated possession, Sunderland weren’t able to make it count - and as time dwindled down and the heat of the sun took its toll, the energy-sapping jaunts forward from our wide men became less and less frequent.

Overloading down the flanks brought Sunderland success in the first half
Roker Report

Set pieces were poor - what’s the solution?

Part of the reason why our attacks from out wide were relatively successful was that we managed to force a large amount of corners - nine, a decent haul which gave us plenty of opportunities to make Peterborough pay for conceding so many of them.

There was just one issue, though - the only man who is seemingly capable of taking a decent set piece, Grant Leadbitter, was rightly sat on the bench as the duo of Max Power and Lee Cattermole started ahead of him.

Power and McGeady took turns on all of Sunderland’s corners and free kicks but, like in the pre-Leadbitter section of our season, practically all of our deliveries were poor. Many people rightly pointed out to me on Twitter after the game that Leadbitter isn’t playing because his form hasn’t been good enough to warrant a start recently.

So... what’s the solution?

I wish I knew. Ultimately, the margins were fine when it came to game-changing moments yesterday. Had Sunderland defended resolutely for the final 9 minutes of the game we’d be sat here with three points - but we didn’t. By the same token, had we taken a single decent set piece then we might have actually gone into the break deservedly leading the game.

It’s been a sore point for much of this season, but Sunderland’s toothlessness when it comes to corners and free kicks really does frustrate me. Quite why nobody but Grant Leadbitter seems to be able to strike a decent ball into dangerous areas ultimately has to be addressed, because whilst his all-round performances haven’t been great we are more threatening when he’s on the pitch and standing over our set pieces.

EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Image

Did the switch to 4-4-2 leave us exposed again?

Peterborough’s equalising goal was about as route one as it gets - and frustratingly for Sunderland, the fact we had one less player in the centre of the park at the time allowed our opponents to expose a oft-seen glaring weakness in our tactical game-plan.

Having failed to press the ball from the top, a long ball forward caught Jimmy Dunne on the back foot and was won by Godden, who nodded it back into a dangerous central area where there were no Sunderland bodies stood waiting to pick up the second ball.

It dropped to Ivan Toney, who managed to out-muscle Alim Ozturk and poke the ball back to Godden, who was given far too much time to compose himself by Bryan Oviedo before shooting across McLaughlin to break Sunderland hearts in the dying minutes.

Too much space - and Peterborough made us pay.
EFL

Why was our defence pushed so high up the pitch at such a crucial time of the game? The long ball put the entire team on the back foot and, because Jimmy Dunne failed to deal with it, the midfield were nowhere to be seen when when we needed them to be there clearing our lines.

Much has been made this season of the experience that Sunderland possess in their squad, but at times you find yourself scratching your head as you bemoan the simple mistakes we seem to make on a weekly basis when it comes to basic defending at crucial moments.

The sensible approach would have been for one of Sunderland’s front two to drop back into a deeper position and take the pressure off our tiring midfield and defence, but we remained in the same shape that we did before Power scored and we were made to pay.