Sunderland lost 1-0 at the Stadium of Light against Wigan yesterday in Lee Johnson’s first match in charge the club.
Nineteen-year-old Wigan academy graduate Kyle Joseph put the visitors in front with his first senior goal, and that was enough to give the Latics only their third win of the season.
Aiden McGeady made his first start of season for Sunderland, but despite dominating the match the Black Cats were unable to create clear-cut chances.
The result means Sunderland are now five games without a win and have dropped to ninth in the table, while Wigan are now four points from safety.
Are injuries showing who Sunderland’s integral players are?
At the beginning of each season when new players come in, many fans are always wondering who will start, as well as who will become the crucial players.
Lately, Sunderland have suffered injuries to many first-team regulars, with Jordan Willis, Luke O’Nien, Denver Hume, Lynden Gooch and Charlie Wyke all currently out injured.
Losing Willis has left a massive hole in Sunderland’s defence, which is evident from the before and after comparisons, plus the club do not possess the depth to adequately replace the two full-backs.
Going forward, Gooch is one of few players in the squad who can beat players and make things happen – he is Sunderland’s best creator this season with five assists.
Upfront, although a debatable figure, Wyke has been Sunderland’s highest goalscorer this season.
Both Will Grigg and Danny Graham failed to get into the match yesterday and for the first time since he signed I actually felt Sunderland missed Wyke.
With all of these players out at the same time, Sunderland’s results have declined and the squad does not possess the depth and quality to adequately replace them.
It creates concern moving forward, as with a congested December ahead Sunderland will have to rotate the squad.
What has happened to Chris Maguire?
After yet another anonymous performance in a red and white shirt, I find myself wondering what has happened to Sunderland’s usually consistent talisman this season?
Last year the Scot scored and assisted double figures, but this season has failed to score from open play in League One.
He became Mr Reliable in terms of making things happen going forward, but this season I am trying to decide if he is unfit, unmotivated, or suffering from the negative approach Phil Parkinson brought into the team.
One of Lee Johnson’s biggest tasks will be ensuring influential players like Maguire return to their best form and start contributing consistent end-product numbers.
Now that McGeady is back Maguire certainly has more competition, but if Maguire continues to underperform the likes of Elliot Embleton deserve more opportunities.
How will Denver Hume’s injury impact Sunderland?
Should Hume have suffered a serious hamstring injury, his loss will leave Sunderland incredibly short, with only Calum McFadzean left as a recognised left-back.
Johnson will likely go with McFadzean against Lincoln next Saturday, but should anything happen to him, Sunderland would likely have to push Conor McLaughlin across as Jack Ross did last season.
It creates a dilemma going into Tuesday’s EFL Trophy match against Oldham – will Johnson risk his only fit left-back in a cup competition?
When Hume has been injured in the past, Sunderland have used Lynden Gooch or Jack Diamond in wing-back roles, but playing them in a four would severely challenge their defensive capabilities.
Even if Johnson wanted to dip into the Under-23 squad, Sunderland do not have a natural left-back to pick from, with left-winger Cieran Dunne often deputising.
Overall, should anything happen to McFadzean over the Christmas period, Sunderland will be left in a difficult position if Hume’s injury is serious.
Was Lee Johnson brave to enter the dugout yesterday?
Attempting to end on a high as I usually do, I thought Johnson putting himself straight in the deep end after only being appointed in the morning was a fantastic sign.
He had no training sessions with the squad or any real time to get his tactics/mentality across – all he had was a pre-match team talk.
The easy option for him would have been to watch from the stands and allow Andrew Taylor to take the team once again.
For me it showed that Johnson is raring to go and really wants to invest his all into this project.
It is safe to say he cannot be blamed or judged on yesterday’s performance. Hopefully we start to see the changes he implements in weeks to come.