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Finlay’s Report: Sunderland leave Southend with more questions than answers ahead of playoffs...

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Who plays in defence? Who plays in midfield? Do we go with two up top? What formation should we use? Sunderland, unfortunately, left Southend with more questions than answers ahead of a play-off showdown with Portsmouth.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Sunderland showed no passion or spirit as they lost 2-1 against Southend United at Roots Hall in the final match of the regular League One season. But for Sunderland, this won’t be the end of a long season, as they now go into a League One play-off semi-final against Portsmouth with no momentum.

Southend now stay in League One after results around the country helped them and their three points also helped. Sunderland finished League One in fifth, while Portsmouth finished fourth after their 1-1 draw against Accrington Stanley at Fratton Park. Charlton finished the season in third after their 4-0 victory over Rochdale. In the semi-finals of the play-offs, Charlton will face Doncaster Rovers, while Sunderland face Portsmouth. The home leg will be played on Saturday 11th May at 19:30, while the away leg will be played at Fratton Park on Thursday 16th May 2019 at 19:45.

The gaffer made four changes to the side that lost 2-1 against Fleetwood Town on Tuesday night which left Sunderland having to play in the play-offs to try and gain automatic promotion.

The Lads turned back to their 4-4-2 formation with Charlie Wyke starting up top alongside Will Grigg. Both full-backs - Luke O’Nien and Bryan Oviedo - dropped to the bench with Adam Matthews and Denver Hume both given starts. Also, Lee Cattermole wasn’t in the squad, so Grant Leadbitter took his place.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

First Half: Poor Sunderland Concede Late

Southend came out on the front foot, as they knew a defeat would mean that they would be relegated. Just as Plymouth took the lead, which meant that the Shrimpers would be relegated, the hosts had a big chance. Dru Yearwood was played through on goal and was one-on-one. His shot was saved by the legs of Jon McLaughlin.

Yearwood had another chance later on when the ball was played across the Sunderland goal to the Southend midfielder. He was in the centre of the penalty area, and he completely miss-kicked his shot, with the ball sent rolling out for a goal kick.

Sunderland played their way back into the match when Chris Maguire twisted and turned into the penalty area and fired the ball wide of the right post.

This would be a big day in the history of Southend as they could be relegated to League Two, but they put themselves in pole position to stay up when a Stephen McLaughlin cross from a corner found Kiernan. He nodded the ball up to White, who tried a bicycle kick inside the penalty area. The defender was given space to do this off his shin and it beat Jon McLaughlin and it travelled into the back of the net.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Second Half: Sunderland Show NO Character

Early on in the second half, Sunderland made their first substitutions to change the flow of the match when Jack Ross brought on Luke O’Nien and Kazaiah Sterling in the place of Lynden Gooch and Will Grigg.

Sunderland knew if they could score two goals for the first time in four matches and with results elsewhere, with Portsmouth losing at the time against Accrington and Doncaster winning against Coventry, they could finish in third and play Doncaster in the play-offs.

The visitors probably should have had a penalty when the ball was played across the Southend goal to Wyke, who was in front of his man, John White. White tripped Wyke as he was about to pounce onto the ball, but the referee only gave a corner to Sunderland.

Jack Ross made his final change when he brought on Dylan McGeouch in a straight swap for Max Power.

Sunderland were then given a penalty when the ball was played over the top of the Southend defence and Wyke ran onto it. The Sunderland striker got a nudge by John White just as he was looking to get a touch onto the ball. Oxley claimed the ball, but the referee pointed to the spot.

Chris Maguire took the penalty and although Oxley got a touch onto the ball, there was too much power on the strike, so it was palmed into the bottom left corner. Southend were now plunged into trouble as with Plymouth beating Scunthorpe 3-2, they would be relegated.

Southend surely secured three points and their League One status when a cross into the penalty area by Bwomono found Simon Cox, who headed the ball down to Humphrys, who kept hold of it. With three Sunderland players around him and Flanagan and McGeouch tackling each other, Humphrys managed to slot the ball under Jon McLaughlin. This meant that Southend would stay in League One with this result.

The match ended Southend United 2-1 Sunderland AFC, which meant that the Shrimpers were safe and Sunderland would play Portsmouth in a mouth-watering play-off semi-final.

Although that fixture being the last game of the regular League One season, Sunderland now face another two games at least, when they face Portsmouth at 19:30 next Saturday.

Jack Ross needs to play his strongest side; but the question is now, what is Jack Ross’ best starting 11? What centre-backs do you play? Who do you play in midfield? What formation do you play? Do you play Wyke and Grigg up top? Also, Portsmouth have the physiological advantage as they haven’t lost against Sunderland in their three meetings this season.

Pompey won at Fratton Park in December, they also won on penalties in the Checkatrade Trophy final and in Sunderland’s last home match of the season, they drew 1-1. With no momentum, I see no way of Sunderland beating Portsmouth on Saturday.