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2 Up, 2 Down: The good and the bad from Sunderland’s EFL Trophy victory over Port Vale

Will our panel find any negatives after Sunderland reach the quarter-final of the Papa John’s Trophy? Let’s find out in this week’s two up, two down!

Sunderland v Port Vale - Papa John’s Trophy Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images


Paul Fletcher says...

Two Up...

We scored more than one goal in a game - a feat that we have only managed to achieve in three of our previous twelve games. In the same twelve game period, we only kept two clean sheets.

You don’t need to be a statistical genius to work out that if you rarely keep a clean sheet and typically only score one goal, you’re not going to win many games. We hit the woodwork a couple of times, we missed a couple of clear chances and for the first time since the Lincoln game, we offered an attacking threat.

I’m not getting too carried away. After all, we were playing a mid-table League Two team. And of course, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Our final ball was very inconsistent and we wasted a lot of set pieces. But two goals are two goals and if we can repeat this every game, we’ll win the vast majority of them.

Sunderland v Port Vale - Papa John’s Trophy
Aiden McGeady scores from the spot
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Aiden O’Brien deserves a lot of credit for getting us the win. For both goals he demonstrated a bit of football intelligence. For the first goal, he made the right run at the right time and finished well.

For the second goal, he played the right pass at the right time and Diamond and McGeady did the rest. His workrate off the ball was good for the full 90 minutes, pressing the ball well and running the channels to create space for the players around him. On the ball it was more of a mixed bag.

For every pass he tried that came off, there was another one that didn’t. I suppose it’s to be expected from a player who has barely played in the past two months (discounting the 90 minutes against AFC Wimbledon as a late replacement while not being match fit).

If he can stay injury free and get a run in the side, the match sharpness will come, the understanding between him and his teammates should improve and he could play a major role during the remainder of the season.

Sunderland v Port Vale - EFL Trophy
Aiden O’Brien
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Two Down...

Bailey Wright had to play the full 90 minutes. This is not a dig at Wright, who I thought did okay, but didn’t look as assured as usual. It’s not really a dig at Lee Johnson either. You can understand why he played Wright. Willis and McFadzean were both coming back from injury and Power was playing in an unfamiliar role.

It would have been a bit harsh to throw a young player into the mix too. With Sanderson cup-tied, Feeney, McLaughlin, Xhemajli and Flanagan injured, the manager was short on options. So if anything, this is a dig at the circumstances. Bailey Wright is such a key player for us that I’d have liked to see him rested, but it just wasn’t an option.

With not too much to fault on the pitch, my second negative is related to the streaming service. Mine froze a couple of times and had to be refreshed in order to get it back up and running. Then late on in the game, strange flashes appeared on the screen which made it difficult to watch.

From chatting with our other writers, I know I wasn’t the only one who experienced these issues. And it’s not the first time I’ve had problems with the streaming service. How hard can it be for a club of our stature to provide paying supporters with uninterrupted coverage of the match?

Sunderland v Hull City - Sky Bet League One
Bailey Wright
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Gav Henderson says...


Two Up...

Aiden O’Brien has given the manager a headache when it comes to who he selects up front. Lynden Gooch too, who worked well in tandem with the Republic of Ireland international and set the first goal up. Sunderland haven’t had an effective forward two for a number of years now, and whilst I’m reluctant to get ahead of myself, if I was Lee Johnson I’d be thinking seriously about playing them both on Saturday.

Wimbledon, like Port Vale, won’t try and control the game which means we can probably get away with playing in a 4-2-2-2 again. What have we got to lose? Give the two lads a go in league action since they’ve earned it - you never know, it could be a real difference maker as the season progresses.

I’m going to give Max Power a bit of praise, mainly as I’m one of his biggest critics and really struggle to see why he starts so many games in midfield. At right back, however, he looks alright - I thought he was steady in his cameo there against Hull, and then on Tuesday he did the basics very well.

I know Luke O’Nien is close to a return but we need our full backs to contribute in both halves of the pitch, something Conor McLaughlin doesn’t do. Power’s at least shown he’s competent in that role, so I’d be reluctant to replace him at the weekend based on what we saw from the Sunderland captain on Tuesday night.

Sunderland v Port Vale - EFL Trophy
Max Power
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Two Down...

Charlie Wyke. I’m actually sick of whinging about him but... christ, what on earth do you say about the lad that hasn’t already been said?

That header he missed not long after coming on was criminal - Aiden McGeady put the cross on a plate to him, he was completely unmarked, and he fluffed it. Then right near the end, six yards out, he struggles to adjust his feet and get a shot away in a situation where I feel most of the other players in the squad, defenders included, might have fancied themselves to score.

He’s just not good enough if your ambition is to get promoted, despite his relatively impressive scoring record so far this season.

We failed to turn the screw in the second half after the break. I’m not sure whether it was losing Dan Neil and bringing on Grant Leadbitter, or if we consciously dropped off with the weekend in mind, but I really wanted to see us add a number of goals in that final 45 minutes and whilst we did eventually double our lead right before the end of the game, I don’t think we made our dominance count when we should have.

Sunderland v Port Vale - Papa John’s Trophy
Charlie Wyke
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Kelvin Beattie says...

Two Up...

I was pleased to see Max Power having another run at right-back. He did well in his cameo against Hull, and once again had a very steady game, getting forward to support the attack and handling his defensive duties effectively. How would he handle a fast skilful winger? Only time will tell. So far, its an experiment I would persevere with.

I was also very impressed with McGeady again. Three lovely pieces of skill within ten minutes of coming on. The goal threat and creativity was apparent, as he speeded the game up and made us look much more dangerous. I think he gives players like Diamond, Scowen and Embo’ confidence to try the offensive move, rather than the safe, slow, predictable option.

Honourable mentions for Willis and O’Brien who probably had his best game for us, with his usual energy and effort as well as showing Charlie how to take a ball with your back to goal and hold on to it. That said O’Brien is not the answer to our difficulties up front.

Sunderland v AFC Wimbledon - Sky Bet League One
Jordan Willis
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Two Down...

For the amount of possession we had in the opposition half and the number of corners, that we only scored two seems remarkable. However you could not really say the Port Vale goalie had a really busy night and had to make great saves to keep his team in the game.

Our tendency to over hit or under hit crosses and generally make poor decisions in the final third was partly at fault. Until McGeady came on we offered very little down the left hand side. Port Vale responded by ensuring our right hand side was well staffed with their defenders to their credit, making it difficult to turn all our possession into chances or goals in the last third.

I was also unconvinced by McFadzean again. I thought he played poorly in his last game for us and was hoping he could bring his “A” Game. He did not. I thought he was not on top of his game defensively, poor positioning and caught the wrong side of his attacker for one of their few chances.

He also appeared to slow the attack down a lot when in possession, often cutting back and playing the ball inside or backwards. Another four out of ten performance for me, and that is being generous!