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Talking Tactics: Explaining the tactical tweak Sunderland made which helped them beat Accrington

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Jack Ross brought back the 4-4-2 formation due to a number of midfielder options being unavailable - and it worked as Sunderland ran out comfortable 3-0 winners on Accrington’s mud bath pitch last night.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The Teams...

Sunderland made five changes following Sunday afternoon’s Checkatrade Trophy Final disappointment, something which was expected since that game went to 120 minutes. Reece James, Lee Cattermole, Grant Leadbitter, Lewis Morgan and the suspended George Honeyman dropping out for Denver Hume, Max Power, Dylan McGeouch, Lynden Gooch and Charlie Wyke.

This meant that Jack Ross switched formation slightly, changing from a 4-2-3-1 to a standard 4-4-2. Jon McLaughlin started in goal, behind a back four of Luke O’Nien, Tom Flanagan, Jack Baldwin and Denver Hume. Max Power and Dylan McGeouch made up the new central midfield duo. Lynden Gooch and Aiden McGeady started in the wide positions, in support of Charlie Wyke and Will Grigg who started up front.

Accrington Stanley 0 - 3 Sunderland AFC (03/04/2019)

Will Grigg and Charlie Wyke

Although Sunderland made five changes of personnel, the most important difference in Sunderland’s approach was a change of formation - with the switch to a 4-4-2 allowing Charlie Wyke and Will Grigg to start together up front.

Grigg scored his second goal in as many league games at a muddy Wham stadium, and the goal he scored in Sunderland’s game at home to Walsall - assisted by Wyke - showed how the two could link up well as a pair of forwards in a promotion challenge.

Wyke also made a positive impact at Wembley on Sunday afternoon, his pass assisting Aiden McGeady’s equaliser deep into extra time helped produce absolute scenes.

Since Grigg arrived at the club, Sunderland have struggled to provide him with regular opportunities to hit the back of the net, but with two in the last two and the performances of Wyke improving alongside him - the former Wigan and Brentford man may well be starting to ignite.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Hume, Wyke and McGeady make 4-4-2 work

I was quite critical of Sunderland’s play the last time 4-4-2 was used this season as the gap between the midfield and the strikers resulted in Sunderland playing too direct, and not to their strengths.

However, with Denver Hume coming in at left back, the disconnect between midfield and attack was never an issue at the Wham Stadium.

Hume’s frequent overlaps meant the Aiden McGeady was able to drift into a number ten position almost at will, becoming the connect between the midfield duo of McGeouch and Power and the strike force of Grigg and Wyke.

The Republic of Ireland international is certainly the man for the big occasions, as he proved at Wembley, and with eight more cup finals to come between now and the end of the season, McGeady will certainly have a big impact on whether or not Sunderland will be celebrating automatic promotion come May.

Even without McGeady in the second half Sunderland’s 4-4-2 continued to work well - largely thanks to the presence of Charlie Wyke who is finally showing Sunderland fans why he was brought to the club in the Summer.

His height, strength and general ability to occupy defenders both in the air and on the ground meant that even if Sunderland went more direct they actually had someone to aim for, rather than surrendering possession to the opposition time and time again.

If you had said a couple of weeks ago that Sunderland fans would be singing the name of their number nine in a positive manner many would have laughed, but that’s exactly what happened at full time in Accrington, and the ovation he received was well deserved as he continued his revival in a Sunderland shirt.