Sunderland needed that win - but Lee Johnson needed it most
There’s no doubt about it: this will go down as a welcome and vital victory. The performance wasn’t great, but the game was managed to an extent which enabled Sunderland to go for the kill at the end.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that this was an opposition expected to challenge at the top of the table - and their team sheet was full of solid League One talent. However while the attacking verve of many earlier games this season was not present, neither was the fragility which has crippled the side in the last couple of away games.
No one will be more relieved than Lee Johnson. He’s come under some rightful scrutiny over the last few weeks but he has negotiated a very tricky fixture, and come out in credit.
It would not be unfair to Sunderland fans to say there were many waiting to pounce on an Ipswich opener to crack out the boos and begin the mutiny. Thank goodness that didn’t happen because it would not have helped one jot.
Despite the win, problems still remain
It was not a bad performance in the traditional sense, but there were issues throughout the first 85 minutes which should check any progress in the minds of Sunderland fans who think “wa mint”. Clearly a win, a clean sheet and taking the only two chances you have all game mean overall, it is a good afternoon’s work. However, the overall quality of performance suggests there is much room for improvement.
The shape and organisation of the side was nothing like we have seen in the opening 10 games of the season. It was a curious display. Johnson started out with Gooch on the left, Embleton on the right, with Broadhead in a central role, and it clearly wasn’t working.
To his credit, he switched these three around after 25 minutes and it immediately gave a better balance in dealing with the Ipswich threat, but it did not lead to any chances or patterns of play of any note.
Perhaps most frustratingly, the distribution from the back was very poor all afternoon - Doyle, Hoffmann and principally Evans being the main culprits. The defence was too often very deep, meaning the ball fell to an Ipswich player in Sunderland’s half and as such were constantly susceptible to the counter attack. It was lucky Ipswich did not capitalise on it.
The truth is Sunderland looked disorganised until the introduction of Dajaku and Pritchard - which Johnson should take credit for such a bold move. Until this point it felt like the only chances they would create were through an Ipswich loose pass rather than through any sort of craft from the home side.
However the Tractor Boys looked out of ideas with 10 minutes to go and Johnson sensed the chance. Taking Evans off, moving Winchester to a central role and dropping Gooch back was a risk, but it paid off as the substitutes managed to stretch the opposition back line.
This led to the corner from which O’Nien put Sunderland ahead.
O’Nien silences the critics
Talking of people who have their detractors - wasn’t it nice to see Luke O’Nien play so well?
In the second half in particular he was arguably Sunderland’s stand out player. He’d clearly been given instructions to stick much closer to Sone Aluko, who had a lot of joy in the first period.
The context to this of course is that he has been poor in the last few games and some - including me - had floated the idea of taking him out the side, based purely on his performances of late.
However for some reason he finds himself the focus of discontent, when there is a strong argument he is the very last person at the club who should be the target of such complete horse sh*t. His performances should of course be critiqued but some of the puerile, borderline insane nonsense put his way of late has been rivalled only by the absolute idiots - yes, I’m talking to you, you know who you are - who have a go at Johnson because of his height. Men under 5’10 unite.
Of course now with a left back crisis in full swing there may be a new role for O’Nien in the coming weeks. Oh joy, another thing to get people all het up about.
A chance now to kick on
The task for Johnson now is to kick on. Four very winnable games are coming up and it represents an opportunity to strengthen Sunderland’s position - particularly because one is a game in hand against Oxford.
Tuesday at Shrewsbury must reinforce Saturday, because if not there are many people out there who - I’ll be honest - would take a perverse delight in dragging Johnson back down the snake to square one.
The feeling is though that these are sides who perhaps Sunderland might be able to impose themselves on more successfully than Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham. This might be the chance that players such as Nathan Broadhead are waiting for; these are Cheltenham style-matches rather than those at the top end of the table.
They will be difficult and should not be underestimated, but this block of games really could make or break Sunderland’s season.