Sunderland beat Wimbledon 3-0 at Plough Lane yesterday, with Charlie Wyke scoring his first hat-trick for the Black Cats. The win moved Lee Johnson’s side up to eighth on the League One table, three points away from the play-off positions.
Wyke scored his first goal early in the match, converting Aiden O’Brien’s low cross, before the match opened up with both sides challenging the opposition goalkeepers. As Wimbledon went more offensive, the ex-Bradford City man scored a brilliant volley from a Grant Leadbitter corner and minutes he secured his hat-trick, chipping Dons keeper Sam Walker.
The 28-year-old is the first to score a hat-trick during Johnson’s reign in charge and he has now scored ten League One goals, making him the league’s joint-third top scorer.
Is Charlie Wyke proving he can score goals when Sunderland play to his strengths?
Following the Hull draw, I asked Sunderland fans if Charlie Wyke was the man to fire the club to the Championship. The responses were incredibly polarised, but after Wyke’s performance yesterday afternoon against Wimbledon, many who criticised his ability may be left with a slice of humble pie.
The 28-year-old seems so confident presently, when provided with opportunities against The Dons he successfully dispatched them and the clever ship to secure his hat-trick was by far the most composed moment of his Sunderland career.
A clear trend with the goals Wyke scored was that they all came from low passes and enabled him to shoot from inside the box. Through his height Wyke has often been criticised for his poor success rate in aerial duels, but games like yesterday prove his game is all around movement within the box and close range finishes.
As stated in the tweet below, the ex-Bradford striker is often miscategorised as a target man, but as shown by his uplift in form, when Sunderland feed him the ball inside the box in effective shooting areas, he scores goals. He does not thrive on aerial duels, his game is all about working hard and moving into space close range so he can score.
Many thought he was Phil Parkinson’s big man upfront, a player you could fire long balls to for him to hold the ball up or win flicks, but he simply ineffective in that role. League One defenders thrive on aerial duels, it is their bread and butter, when Sunderland keep the ball on the floor and set Wyke up, he is showing he can deliver.
What Wyke now needs to do is not get complacent, he needs to continue to deliver the calibre of performance he did yesterday and push himself to achieve 20 league goals.
Yes breaking into double figures sets him above his competitors in Will Grigg, Aiden O’Brien and Danny Graham, but Sunderland are a team who should aim to win the league so scoring double figures should be a minimum expectation for our starting forward.
If Wyke can continue to score consistently and help Sunderland achieve promotion, all of his doubters will have to award him the respect he deserves. Having said that, is he just on a purple patch, or are we going to see permanent consistency from a striker who has scored more this season than in his two previous seasons combined?
Poacher Wyke strikes again ⚽️— Matthew Crichton (@MattyCrichton) January 16, 2021
He really does thrive from low passes into the box for him to strike, you rarely see him shoot/score from outside the box or create his own goals.
He is 100% more of a poacher/pressing forward than the target man many assume. #SAFC
Is Lee Johnson showing the selection bravery and creativity Sunderland fans wanted?
A key of criticism of former Sunderland manager Phil Parkinson is that he was stubborn and reluctant to make proactive changes, but so far in Lee Johnson’s tenure he has been bold, creative and brave.
For example, yesterday’s team selection prompted debate on social media amongst fans, as Johnson made interesting selection choices such as:
- Starting Aiden O’Brien despite poor league scoring form
- Selecting Elliot Embleton over an in-form Jack Diamond
- Picking Jordan Willis over Dion Sanderson despite his excellent previous game
- Persisting with Max Power at right-back out of his natural position
- Adopting a 4-2-2-2 formation following a trial against Port Vale
Yet despite some surprise to his choices, the players he picked delivered. O’Brien set up the opening goal, Embleton was lively and creative, Willis was bar Wyke man of the match and Power continues to show his positional flexibility.
It is incredibly refreshing to see a manager willing to try new positions, new systems and tactics, someone who makes brave selection choices and is not afraid to drop in form players for certain matches.
When scouts were analysing Sunderland previously it was entirely simplistic, we had one way of operating and were reluctant to change systems, we would shoe horn players to fit the system at all costs.
Now it seems we have a coach who makes choices based on how he thinks the team can exploit the weaknesses of the opposition. Johnson seems to want to utilise various systems and have alternative plans, so if Sunderland are struggling there are other options, instead of persisting with the same monotonous routine even if it is not working.
Admittingly results have not been fantastic of late, as Johnson has not managed to achieve a run of consistent wins, but from how he has operated so far there is plenty of evidence to suggest he can deliver a consistent run to fire Sunderland towards the top six at least.
How important is Jordan Willis to Sunderland’s defence?
Charlie Wyke will dominate the media spotlight from Sunderland’s victory, but someone else who deserves a massive amount of credit is returning centre-back Jordan Willis.
The ex-Coventry skipper dominated Dons striker Joe Pigott, who has scored the same amount of goals as Wyke this season. His long-term knee injury is regarded as one of the main reasons Sunderland’s defence went from rock solid to weak and wobbly.
Willis is arguably one of League One’s best central defenders, he is brilliant aerially, powerful enough to deal with physical target men, but he also possesses excellent pace which is rare at this level. The 26-year-old is also comfortable on the ball and is capable of stepping in at speed to fire passes into dangerous forward areas.
Before his injury, Sunderland had conceded just one goal in five league games, but Willis has struggled to return to full fitness and has often been rushed back. His next replacement in a two-man central defence would be Tom Flanagan, who whilst can do a job is far more error prone.
If Sunderland can keep both Willis and Bailey Wright fit, Johnson will have two central defenders who are Championship level and who can return the team’s defensive form to the levels that had the team fighting for automatic promotion at the start of the season.
Wright is usually the person regarded as keeping Sunderland’s defence tight, but is Willis actually the most integral central defender the club possesses?