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Talking Points: Gillingham 0-2 Sunderland - Papering over the cracks?

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We won, but Aiden O’Brien’s still yet to score in League One and we only had three shots on target on Saturday. That, coupled with Parkinson’s frustrating use of substitutions, makes Tuesday’s game with promotion rivals Ipswich Town a worrying prospect.

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Sunderland beat Gillingham 2-0 on Saturday at the Priestfield Stadium, courtesy of second half goals from Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch. Lee Burge saved a penalty from Jordan Graham at 0-0, before Alex MacDonald was shown a straight red card for a late challenge on Luke O’Nien. The win moved Sunderland temporarily up to 5th place in the League One table, and here are the major talking points from the match.

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Gooch scored his second League One goal of the season against Gillingham.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Aiden O’Brien still yet to score in League One

Our new Irish international striker was brought in with Championship experience, alongside a history of scoring goals at this level, but so far he has failed to find the net in seven league appearances for Sunderland.

O’Brien struggled massively against the Gills, failing to win headers, struggling with his first touch, and overall just not looking threatening by any means.

He missed an absolute sitter with a shot from a cross inside the six yard box, which has been a repeat occurrence for the striker, whose only goal came from an excellent strike from range against Aston Villa under-21s in the EFL Trophy.

He was hauled off after 70 minutes for Danny Graham, who despite missing the target instantly had better movement off the ball.

O’Brien’s failure to hit the ground is creating a huge problem for Phil Parkinson as both his forward summer transfers have failed to hit the net in League One.

If I was Will Grigg, I would be sat highly confused as to what I have to do to get a chance!

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Aiden O’Brien has only one goal in ten games for Sunderland since joining from Milwall.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Three shots on target

The topic of missing important chances brings me nicely onto the next topic - Sunderland’s conversion rate.

Sunderland dominated the ball with 62% possession, as well as taking 20 shots, but only three of those were on target, with two of them coming after 80 minutes once Gillingham were down to ten men.

If Parkinson’s team we are going to make a serious case for promotion, we simply have to score more goals.

Admittingly, Sunderland lack creativity in midfield, especially when Chris Maguire is not playing, but Josh Scowen missed two easy chances combined with O’Brien’s sitter.

Sunderland need more players to step up and be counted going forward other than Charlie Wyke and Maguire.

So far this season, Graham, O’Brien, Grigg, Scowen, George Dobson and Max Power are all yet to score in League One.

Within the top six in League One Sunderland are the lowest scorers, it simply has to change if we want to achieve promotion.

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Lynden Gooch’s goal was Sunderland’s first in added time this season in League One.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Late substitutions

A key area of criticism aimed at Phil Parkinson this season has came through his reluctance to be proactive and change the game until the latter stages.

Despite Sunderland offering very little going forward, Parkinson waited until 70 minutes to bring Danny Graham on and then 81 minutes to bring Chris Maguire on he instantly provided an outlet.

Also, in the same week Pep Guardiola has called for five substitutes to return due to an increase in muscular injuries, Phil Parkinson has only brought on two in each game against Portsmouth, Rochdale and Gillingham.

I simply cannot understand when things are going wrong on the pitch why the manager feels there is no need to change anything.

Yesterday was a perfect opportunity to give Will Grigg a chance to score against ten men and build confidence, or for Jack Diamond to use his pace and direct running to offer something different, but neither were used.

Sunderland were lucky today through a penalty save and red card which swayed the game in our favour, but for me it is worrying that Parkinson was sitting happy to watch his side struggle and not make a change.

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Luke O’Nien’s header was ruled out for offside.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Can we step it up against Ipswich?

After the final whistle was blown I felt relieved that Sunderland had picked up three important points, but I also felt worry ahead of Tuesday night against Ipswich.

Parkinson’s team picked up an impressive win over Peterborough and should have beat Charlton away from home, but we crumbled against Portsmouth.

Although they did lose to Doncaster and Lincoln, Paul Lambert’s side have started the season well after they fell apart mid way through last season, and look prime contenders for promotion.

Sunderland’s ability to beat their promotion rivals will determine if they achieve promotion, as in the previous two seasons the club have drawn too many crucial fixtures.

Having watched the Black Cats’ displays in the last three matches, Ipswich will be confident of causing an upset at the Stadium of Light.

Anyone who watched yesterdays’ match will know that Sunderland will get beat if they play how they did today against Ipswich. Parkinson’s team simply must step up their game on Tuesday night.

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Lee Burge has kept six clean sheets in nine League One games this season.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images