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Was Sunderland’s first half display a sign of things to come under Lee Johnson?

It was a game of two halves for Sunderland during the victory over Shrewsbury Town and Roker Report’s Joseph Tulip ponders on whether it was our first half display that we can expect to see under Lee Johnson.

Sunderland v Shrewsbury Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Despite a bright opening half hour from Sunderland, the Lads made hard work of securing three vital points against Shrewsbury on Saturday.

It was a tough experience for fans as well. With turnstiles firmly closed, the sight of an empty stadium and a bad pitch via a grainy stream, is hardly the matchday experience we all crave.

But let’s focus on the positives, and while we didn’t perform well over 90 minutes by any stretch of the imagination, I observed enough to see progress is being made under Lee Johnson.

The first 35 minutes was genuinely entertaining, and even got me off my sofa on more than one occasion.

Sunderland v Shrewsbury Town - Sky Bet League One
Aiden McGeady
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We set up with plenty of attacking threat. McGeady and Diamond may be at opposite ends of the footballing age spectrum, but it was great to see them running at the Town full backs, which included former Sunderland man, Donald Love.

They got to the byline and supplied a variety of crosses into Johnson’s favoured POMO, including several fired in low by Diamond, while it was no surprise that a quality delivery from McGeady lead to Wyke’s opener.

Another prominent feature of that opening half hour was our high press. With two wide men, two strikers, and Grant Leadbitter dictating the play, Shrewsbury were struggling to get out of their own half.

Things changed in the latter stages of the first half, and throughout the second when we reverted to type, sat deeper and allowed our visitors back into the game.

Sunderland v Shrewsbury Town - Sky Bet League One
Grant Leadbitter
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Despite our earlier dominance, that vital second goal just wouldn’t come, even though we could easily have scored three or four during that opening period.

If you don’t kill teams off, they grow in confidence and this squad of Sunderland players had become so used to sitting back on a one-goal lead for so long under Phil Parkinson, it almost seems like a natural reaction to try and take what we’ve got, and see the game out.

While this mentality is something Johnson will have to address, it’s clear that he’s already starting to. It is to Johnson’s credit that for 35 minutes we played exactly how he wanted, and the head coach acknowledged this in his post-match interview.

We wouldn’t have seen the attacking approach in the first half had Parkinson still been in the dig out. Now the next challenge for the latest incumbent is to gradually build up this type of performance for closer to a full 90 minutes.

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