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Talking Tactics: What the data tells us about Sunderland’s home defeat to Charlton

Our 100% home record this season fell by the wayside thanks to a controversial Jayden Stockley goal. Here’s how it happened.

Danny Roberts | Roker Report

Lee Johnson lined up the lads with the same composition in the same formation as the 4-0 victory over Crewe, but this time with very different results.

It was arguably the worst performance of the season for many individuals and as a team - barring the game played below sea level in Portsmouth. In terms of xG, it was a relatively even game with all the best chances coming from headers via set pieces or deep crosses into the box - both sides had poor games, both cancelled each other out in the middle of the park and once again as a team we were too easily bullied & physically dominated.

Other times we dropped points have been as a result of conditions, poor mistakes or profligacy in front of goal, but one common denominator in all has been the physicality of the opponents and our inability to deal with it. Even in some wins this season (Gillingham, Bolton, Port Vale) this has been the case & we battled well to get the three points in close games.


Poor Progression in Central Areas

One of the reasons for our many wins this season has been the ability at which we are able to progress the ball vertically from the defence at ease. Callum Doyle has been terrific at doing so for the most part - though expect the odd mistake due to both his age and the quantity of which he is tasked at doing so.

However, Jayden Stockley and Conor Washington are both very effective at pressing high and disturbing defenders’ ability to carry the ball out. Over the course of the season their PPDA (passes allowed per defensive action) has been just 11.1, sixth highest in the league and they have completed 15 shot-ending high turnovers, the joint-second highest.

As a result, Callum Doyle struggled to find teammates and the midfield were too passive and unable to impose themselves upon the game in a meaningful way in their third. Doyle completed just 60% of his passes & gave it away 14/19 times when attempting long balls:

We dominated minutes 31-45 with 77% possession but only had 3 shots and barely created anything via xG in this time. Even when on the ball, we struggled to break down Charlton’s 9-man defence and keen pressing off the ball. Luke O’Nien’s poor all-round performance at recycling the ball also contributed to this. He completed 89% of his passes, but as you can see below, aside from one brilliant, early through ball he was unable to break through their midfield & just played as a crab - constantly sideways.


Inability to Deal with Tactical Shift

I think the entirety of Sunlun twitter knew what was coming as soon as Charlton sacked Nigel Adkins last week. In almost every game under his tenure, the Addicks played a back-four in some variant of 4-3-3, 4-4-2 or 4-4-D. Johnnie Jackson, however, lined his side up in a 3-5-2 in which Jonathan Leko was shifted to RWB, introduced George Dobson as a defensive screen, and played Stockley & Washington together in mobile roles.

Sacking a manager disrupts a lot of the oppsition’s preparation and is often the biggest reason as to why said teams win and receive that new manager bounce. Of course, players trying to impress and new ideas being shared are also just as vital.

We didn’t quite know how to find space, nor how to deal with their midfield dictation for all but 15 minutes of the game. In prior games, Charlton has conceded 80% of goals from opportunities created out wide, but here our wingers were shunted, forced inside and couldn’t create any opportunities - and when they did both McGeady and O’Brien decided to have individually their worst games of the season.

As a whole, the front four all attempted to occupy the same spaces and more-often-than-not were in eachother’s way:

They worked poorly in tandem and did not link-up well enough. Pritchard was industrious but doesn’t have the close control or constant threat in tight spaces to be an effective 10, and while Stewart battled superbly against three solid League One defenders, he was far too isolated.

Lee Johnson left it all too late to change and when he did, his substitutions were bizarre. It is easy to say in hindsight but one early change - McGeady for Dajaku - could’ve alleviated many early issues. This would allow O’Brien to move centrally and support Stewart, and give us pace out wide to expose the large gaps that appeared between each wing-back and LCB/RCB.

I am not a fan of this four together - Embleton is our most dangerous attacking midfielder even when not on top form, and out wide there is not enough pace. Pritchard is a far better winger, and AOB isn’t exactly technically proficient but serves as a busy second-striker who supports the number 9 well. The one tweak Johson made here was moving AOB out wide and it just did not work at all.

By the way, that big red pass out wide from the centre of their half is honestly one of the worst I’ve ever seen at the SoL.

This was very much a case of being physically bullied, unable to adapt to unforeseen tactical tweaks and a case of both too many of our players playing awfully, and having a mag ref taking the piss all game. He was a disgrace. Sunlun playing badly and the ref being dreadful are not mutually exclusive, but only the former causes us more long-term worries.

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