A Proper Front Four
In a game where Sunderland scored three first-half goals, all by member of their four most attacking players, the obvious place to start in a review of the game is with the movement of the wide attackers - especially McGeady and Gooch, who both scored goals from central areas.
The fact that Sunderland’s wide players often drifted inside to offer a threat in the box was the key component in turning a rather basic and conservative 4-4-1-1 into a direct attacking 4-2-4, with Maguire given the freedom to drift into the channels without leaving McNulty isolated, and both Hume and O’Nien advancing up the pitch to maintain width.
Gooch’s first goal was a perfect example of this system. Hume’s direct running meant he was able to cross from the byline, whilst Gooch - playing on the right flank - finished the left hand post after making a run whoch wasn’t tracked from out-to-in.
4-4-2 Off the Ball
Another key part of Sunderland’s impressive first half attacking performance was their abillity to break quickly when they won the ball back. To facilitate this, the lined up in a compact 4-4-2 formation off the ball, meaning that when the ball was turned over both Maguire and McNulty were already up the pitch, and Gooch and McGeady were ready to sprint forward to play their part in the attack.
This strategy was demonstrated perfectly in the build up to McNulty’s goal. A poor ball from the Accrington centre-back was cut out by Dobson, who played a first time pass to Maguire. He cut back for McNulty to finish into an open net. Three passes after winning the ball back and Sunderland had scored the goal which finished the match as a contest, and sealed a comeback reminiscent of the start of last season.
The speed of this counter attack is something which should be applauded, and something Sunderland should look to replicate in future games, especially when away from home or a goal in front. The best way to avoid falling into last year’s trap of drawing games is to get the extra goal which seals the game beyond doubt, and an effective counter-attack is the key way of doing this.