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Finlay’s Report: “Sunderland’s improvements came due to Jack Ross’s change to four at the back!”

Sunderland’s fortunes have changed for the better - and, according to RR’s junior reporter Finlay Anderson, it all comes down to a change to a more simple formation that suits our defenders.

Sunderland v Portsmouth - Sky Bet League One Photo by Steven Hadlow/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Team...

Jack Ross made two changes to the side that won 3-1 against Accrington Stanley in the first round of the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night at the Wham Stadium.

Aiden McGeady scored a superb goal to put the Black Cats back in front after being pegged back, and came into the starting eleven to replace Will Grigg. Also, Jack Ross’s number one goalkeeper - Jon McLaughlin - started between the sticks ahead of Lee Burge.

Sunderland v Oxford United - Sky Bet League One Photo by Iam Burn/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

First Half: Sunderland bounce back!

The Black Cats only won one of their five matches with Portsmouth last season, with the southerners winning both the first encounter at Fratton Park in League One and the Checkatrade Trophy final at Wembley on penalties - and it was they who started on the front foot. The ball was played over the top looking for John Marquis - the striker who was heavily linked with the Black Cats in both the January and the summer transfer window. Jon McLaughlin came sprinting off his line, and he managed to punch the ball away before the former Doncaster striker could reach it.

Portsmouth then took the lead with 22 minutes on the clock through former Burton Albion winger, Marcus Harness. Harness played the ball to Marquis, but a touch by Max Power fell for the Pompey winger. Harness ran straight through on goal, but then the ball was caught under his feet. Inside the penalty area, it then lay for John Marquis, whose shot was blocked, and then the Black Cats couldn’t clear before Harness snatched at the ball and directed it into the bottom left corner.

For the third consecutive league game, Sunderland fell behind - but they didn’t fall apart and they responded well, finding an equaliser through Jordan Willis. Leadbitter whipped a corner in from the right and the former Coventry man came steaming in and leaped the highest. His header was placed into the bottom left corner, beating Craig MacGillivray.

Then, six minutes before the half time interval, the hosts took the lead with Chris Maguire’s second goal against Portsmouth in his last three appearances. McNulty’s pass was cleared by Anton Walkes, but it only fell for Aiden McGeady, who accelerated forward into the penalty area. He knew exactly where Chris Maguire would be and squared it for his teammate to slot the ball into the back of the net.

Sunderland v Portsmouth - Sky Bet League One Photo by Iam Burn/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Second Half: Hosts hold on

Only four minutes after the restart Sunderland were forced into making their first change of the match when Marc McNulty pulled up with a hamstring injury and was removed from the game as a precaution, with Charlie Wyke replacing him up top.

Portsmouth had it all to do in the second half, and John Marquis had a great chance to make it two-all when Harness played the ball through to him on the right side of the penalty area -but the hapless striker fired wide of the right post.

Only a few minutes after this, Kenny Jackett made two changes with Ellis Harrison and Gareth Evans both coming on, with Ronan Curtis and Andy Cannon making way for the visitors.

Then substitute Gareth Evans had a chance to equalise for the visitors when McCrorie lifted the ball up the right wing to John Marquis, who sent it low into the penalty area. Evans drilled the ball towards the Sunderland goal but it was blocked by the foot of Alim Ozturk.

With only around ten minutes left, Sunderland captain Grant Leadbitter nearly put the ball into the back of his own net - when McCrorie crossed it into the penalty area from the right wing, Leadbitter nodded it towards his own goal and Jon McLaughlin had to pull off an important stop.

As the clock ticked down, Jack Ross played his final two changes, with Will Grigg and Denver Hume both appearing in the places of Aiden McGeady and Chris Maguire.

Then, after five minutes of stoppage time at the end of the match, the referee blew the full time whistle - a much-needed three points for the Lads.

Sunderland v Portsmouth - Sky Bet League One Photo by Steven Hadlow/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Finlay’s Verdict...

Our first league win of the campaign has definitely provided more optimism for the Sunderland fans after two draws against Oxford United and Ipswich Town to start the season - a much better performance and I believe that this was due to the change in formation that Jack Ross applied for the Accrington Stanley cup match last Tuesday.

The two central defenders - Alim Ozturk and Jordan Willis - were much better playing in a back four - and Willis in particular scored a brilliant header to equalise at a time that it was crucial that we scored the next goal.

For me, Marc McNulty was one of the best players on the pitch and I think that his confidence has improved since scoring the opening goal last Tuesday against Accrington Stanley. He was brilliant at holding up the ball at the top of the pitch and played a part in Maguire’s winner.

I think now, that after our first league win against Portsmouth, the momentum is strong and hopefully we can carry this on for Tuesday’s away match against Rochdale at Spotland.

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