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Talking Tactics: Sunderland’s defence remains the star of the show as Parky even used his subs!

Sunderland grabbed an important win away to Oxford this past weekend, but what were the foundations upon which the victory was built?

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

Defence stopped Oxford creating chances

Sunderland were made to defend for large periods of the game by Oxford on Saturday afternoon, and were pushed deep into their own half for long periods of the game.

In this respect, the game followed a similar path to Sunderland’s only defeat of 2020 - the 2-0 loss at Portsmouth a couple of weeks ago. However, this time, Sunderland’s defence again showed their worth and managed to keep the hosts at bay without Jon McLaughlin being called into making anything more than a routine save.

Furthermore, despite Oxford’s overall dominance of the possession - something which is entirely predictable since Sunderland scored their winner just two minutes into the match - they only really managed to convert this into an abundance of chances during one period of the game: the 15 minutes following half time.

Scowen’s introduction a real positive

As the stats above show, Sunderland also managed to have their best spell of possession immediately following this period of dominance by the home side, and also in Josh Scowen’s first 15 minutes on the pitch.

This signifies not only Sunderland’s ability to know when to take the pressure out of the game and attempt to keep the ball better without looking to score - they managed just one shot during this spell of increased possession - but also Parkinson’s use of substitutes to change the shape of the team slightly when he saw his side was being overrun in midfield.

Now, as the average position of Scowen shows in his half an hour on the pitch, he actually played higher up the pitch than many would have imagined. In fact, his position is comparable to Maguire rather than Dobson or Power - but his natural instinct as a deeper centre midfielder gave Sunderland more legs in their midfield, and he matched Lynden Gooch for pressing in order to prevent Oxford from keeping the ball comfortably.

Also, his higher position should take into account the fact that the man who is arguably Oxford’s best player - Cameron Brannagan - was situated at the base of their midfield, and as he grew into the game at the start of the second half Oxford were beginning to dominate. Scowen’s introduction further up the pitch was exactly what was needed to prevent this dominance continuing until the home side gained an equaliser.

Average Position of Sunderland’s players vs Rochdale (left) and Oxford (right)
Instat Football

XG says Sunderland deserved their win

Overall, for all the possession and territorial dominance Oxford had on Saturday afternoon, Sunderland’s defence was again impressive enough to prevent them not only from scoring, but also from allowing Karl Robinson’s team to gain enough momentum that they looked certain to score. In fact, for all of Karl Robinson’s post-match claims that his side dominated the game and that Sunderland were lucky to leave the Kassam Stadium with maximum points, the stats disagree.

Nowhere is this more clear than the Expected Goals (xG) which gives Oxford a score of 0.55 and Sunderland - despite supposedly being under the cosh for the majority of the game - a score of 0.93.

Looking at these stats, a one-nil away victory was the ultimate fair result.

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