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Finlay’s Report: “Has anything really changed with Sunderland since last season?”

“Defensive errors, 1-1 draws and a team that can’t score from open play - has anything changed from last season?” asks RR’s junior reporter Finlay Anderson in his run-down of Sunderland’s recent run out against Oxford.

Sunderland v Oxford United - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Boos rang around the Stadium of Light at the full time whistle as Sunderland began the new season with the same result that they were all too familiar with in the last campaign.

After losing the League One play-off final in terrible circumstances in May, the Black Cats were looking to turn over a new page and start afresh, but in the end for the Sunderland fans it was like nothing had really changed but personnel.

The Black Cats drew 1-1 with Oxford at the Stadium of Light, with the hosts having to come from behind against a side who weren’t really expecting to take anything from the match.

Lynden Gooch levelled from the spot after Tariqe Fosu had given Oxford the lead in the opening 45 minutes.

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

The Team...

Jack Ross named only two players who started the League One play-off final against Charlton at Wembley in May, with Tom Flanagan and Jon McLaughlin - who captained the side - keeping their places.

Also, four of the club’s new additions started with Jordan Willis and Conor McLaughlin both playing alongside Flanagan in the new-look defence. George Dobson and Marc McNulty were given their first starts in a red and white shirt after coming on in the final pre-season friendly against Heerenveen. Furthermore, if Sunderland were in need of any fire power in the match, Aiden McGeady, Chris Maguire and Duncan Watmore were all on the bench.

Sunderland Pre-Season Training Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

First Half: Sunderland Concede Sloppily

After just over two months football was back and as the players left the tunnel, they met a coliseum of noise.

Despite being on away turf, Oxford started the better and almost found the breakthrough with around five minutes on the clock. The ball was carved past the Sunderland defence to Fosu, who arrowed his shot just wide of the left post.

Sunderland gradually began to find their feet as McNulty played a short and snappy one-two with Elliot Embleton, but the new boy’s shot produced a magnificent save from Simon Eastwood.

Just as the Black Cats were getting into the groove, the defence let them down yet again as Oxford did take the lead. Conor McLaughlin lost out to Ben Woodburn - the Liverpool loanee - and he found Fosu, who was positioned in acres of space on the left.

He ran through and was one on one with Jon McLaughlin and Jordan Willis couldn’t catch up, which allowed the Oxford midfielder to lift the ball over a diving Jon McLaughlin to give the visitors a surprise lead.

Things nearly went from bad to worse for the hosts as Oxford had the ball in the back of the net for a second time, only for it to be ruled out. Cameron Brannagan curled the ball in from the corner and Rob Dickie came steaming in and nodded the ball past McLaughlin, but it was ruled out by the referee - Peter Wright - for a foul.

As both teams went in for the half time break, Jack Ross knew that he must do something to his team to get them back into the game.

Sunderland v Oxford United - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Second Half: No Repeat of Last Season’s Opener

After his half time team talk, Jack Ross required an immediate response - and that is what he received four minutes after the restart as the Black Cats won a penalty.

New signing George Dobson played the ball to Lynden Gooch, who dribbled it to the by-line and was brought down by Josh Ruffles. The referee gave himself a few seconds to think and pointed to the spot.

Gooch took the penalty himself and fired the ball high into the top right corner to get Sunderland back on level terms.

As the clock ticked down Sunderland threw everything at the Oxford back-line, but with no end product. Oxford had chances of their own through Ben Woodburn, who shot over the bar from close range.

With 71 minutes on the clock, the arrival of Aiden McGeady sprung life into the Sunderland fans, hoping that he would provide the quality needed to break down this Oxford defence.

He was almost part of the winner shortly after as he touched the ball to Hume on the left, who slid the ball into the danger area. Firstly, the ball missed George Dobson and then missed Chris Maguire and fell for Conor McLaughlin, who fired it high over the bar.

Unfortunately for the Black Cats, there was no repeat of the end of last campaign’s opener against Charlton as the match ended Sunderland 1-1 Oxford.

Sunderland v Oxford United - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Finlay’s Verdict...

Has anything changed from last season?

Defensive errors, 1-1 draws and a team that can’t score from open play.

There was only one outfield player that started this match that also played at Wembley against Charlton and that was Tom Flanagan. Pre-match, I was thinking that it was a new season, so he can start from scratch, but I don’t think that he has changed one bit. The early signs suggest that Jordan Willis doesn’t offer anything different at the back than Alim Ozturk or Jack Baldwin did. Despite giving the ball away in the lead up to the Oxford goal, I thought that Conor McLaughlin’s all-round game was good.

I don’t understand why Luke O’Nien didn’t start on Saturday. He was one of our best players last season and I imagine that he would want to continue playing in the side. We need some extra energy and attacking threat and that is what O’Nien brings to the table, so if I was Jack Ross I would have no doubt in starting him against Ipswich this Saturday.

Yet again we couldn’t score from open play, as we had to rely on Gooch’s penalty to take a point. In the week leading up to the game, Will Grigg said that he would “back himself” to score 20-25 goals this season and if he continues playing the way he did on Saturday he will struggle to score even ten - though, that said, I don’t think that the team plays to his strengths, which is a struggle for him.

On Saturday we face our first away game of the season down at Ipswich, which will be a really tough match. They beat Burton on Saturday 1-0 and the fans will be up for the game as they want their side to bounce straight back to the Championship. Hopefully, we can claim our first win of the season and beat a promotion rival.

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