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Finlay’s Report: What does new Sunderland head coach Lee Johnson have to work on?

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New Sunderland head coach Lee Johnson watched his side fall to a home defeat against the league’s bottom club only hours after agreeing to take the job. Roker Report’s junior reporter Finlay Anderson wonders what Johnson learnt, and what he needs to work on.

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

Lee Johnson’s tenure as head coach of Sunderland began with a 1-0 defeat to League One’s bottom club, Wigan Athletic, at the Stadium of Light.

Kyle Joseph’s 16th-minute strike gave Wigan only their third three points of the season, as they scalped another top ten side, after beating Portsmouth and Doncaster in their other victories of the season.

The defeat dropped Sunderland into ninth position after majority of the teams around them picking up wins at the weekend.


The team...

Johnson made four changes to the side that caretaker manager Andrew Taylor had fielded on Tuesday for Sunderland’s 1-1 draw against Burton Albion. The most eye-catching change saw Aiden McGeady return to the starting 11, since the first time since November 2019, after being banished from the first team by Phil Parkinson. Will Grigg was given a chance to make his mark, in place of an injured Charlie Wyke, with Lee Burge returning in between the sticks in place of Remi Matthews, whose error gifted Burton their goal in midweek. Chris Maguire, who was dropped to the bench on Tuesday night, also returned to the side in Johnson’s first game in charge.

Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet League One
McGeady made his first Sunderland appearance for over a year
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

First-half action

Life under Lee Johnson began in the worst possible way as, despite a positive start, it was League One’s bottom club who took the lead. Tom James touched the ball to Kyle Joseph, who was able to turn around Bailey Wright. Wright failed to clear, allowing Joseph space to manoeuvre his way around the Aussie, before drilling the ball into the bottom corner.

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

The Black Cats looked for an instant response as McGeady sprinted into the penalty area and unleashed a powerful attempt, which unfortunately hit the side netting.

For a second successive match, Sunderland were forced into an early change due to an injury, with Denver Hume being unable to carry on with a hamstring injury – Callum McFadzean replacing him in the left-back role.

Sunderland looked to find an equaliser when Grigg touched the ball to Scowen, whose right-footed shot was fired goalwards, but it was beaten away by the Wigan goalkeeper, Jamie Jones.

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

After four minutes of added time, Lee Johnson’s first 45 minutes as Sunderland head coach ended with Wigan leading thanks to Kyle Joseph’s 16th minute strike.

Half time - Sunderland AFC 0-1 Wigan Athletic


Second-half action

Wigan were frustrating the Black Cats during the opening stages of the second half, with the closest the Black Cats coming being a Scowen header from the centre of the penalty area from Power’s cross. His header rebounded against the floor, and was then tipped over the bar by Jamie Jones.

The home side began to apply more pressure onto the Wigan Athletic backline when Aiden McGeady’s left-footed shot from just outside of the penalty area was yet again palmed over the bar by the Wigan goalkeeper.

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

Lee Johnson made two changes to the Sunderland team in an attempt to change the course of the match – bringing on Danny Graham and Elliot Embleton for Grigg and Power.

After Jack Diamond replaced the tiring McGeady, Sunderland were looking more desperate to find a leveller, but the nearest they got was an attempt from Leadbitter which pinged wide of the post.

Five minutes of added time were applied onto the game, but Sunderland weren’t able to find a leveller, and the Black Cats lost their third game of the season.

Full time - Sunderland AFC 0-1 Wigan Athletic


Finlay’s verdict....

Another chapter of Sunderland’s 141-year history is beginning to be written.

Lee Johnson became Sunderland’s 12th manager within the past 10 years on Saturday afternoon.

This weekend may be seen as the start of a new era for the football club, with the appointment of a new head coach and a new sporting director, Kristjaan Speakman, who has been instrumental in the development of the likes of Leicester City’s Demarai Gray and Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham.

Borussia Dortmund v SS Lazio: Group F - UEFA Champions League
Speakman was instrumental in the development of Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham
Photo by Alex Gottschalk/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

The plan that has been hinted at by Speakman sounds promising and sounds like a plan that the club have been lacking over previous years.

It gives fans something to be optimistic about, and hints that a takeover of the club is creeping steadily closer.

However, there wasn’t a great deal in Johnson’s first game to get the fans excited – although he had only hours to prepare the team.

The opening 15 minutes saw the Black Cats absolutely dominate their opponents, but the Latics’ only shot of the game put them into a one-goal lead, which was never really challenged.

Aiden McGeady was brought back into the squad for the first time in over a year, but ironically this saw the Black Cats lack creativity in the 4-3-3 formation they lined up in.

Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet League One
Benefit of the doubt: Johnson
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Some fans may give Johnson the benefit of the doubt, given that he only had a brief time period with the players – however the players on the pitch didn’t show the required passion and creativity.

Johnson has a lot to work on, and Tuesday’s Papa John’s Trophy second round tie against Oldham Athletic will enable him to play around with the squad and perhaps test out some of the youngsters who he hasn’t seen a lot of.

But, overall, the change in operations behind the scenes at the club may provide light at the end of the tunnel for some fans, but there is still recurring problems on the pitch that need to be resolved over the coming weeks.