Ipswich, as expected, lined up their standard 4-2-3-1 system, whilst Sunderland started with a 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 hybrid which Lee Johnson later went on to alter during a spell where the away side were enjoying lots of the ball.
Due to injuries, Luke O’Nien started at left-back for Sunderland, whilst Nathan Broadhead returned to league action after a lengthy lay-off to partner Ross Stewart up top.
Bailey Wright came in at centre half to partner Callum Doyle, with a heavy focus from the back five on keeping out the goals after leaking far too many, too often over recent weeks.
What does the xG data tell us?
If you hadn’t watched the match and hadn’t seen the score, but only looked at the xG data, you’d be forgiven for guessing that the game ended in a draw - in fact, the xG shows that both sides probably deserved a point each.
And, in fairness, I’d agree that a draw would have been a fair outcome - we went 85 minutes before registering a shot on target, whilst Ipswich failed to test Thorben Hoffmann too often aside from their flurry of shots at the German keeper in the first half - and that’s where the majority of their xG was registered.
Passing Networks - what do they tell us?
If you look at the passing map above, you might notice a familiar pattern.
Ross Stewart - who always works tirelessly both in and out of possession - had to come deep for the ball more often than not, and I thought he put in a good shift trying to force himself into the match.
Sadly, the same can’t be said about summer recruit Corry Evans - the Northern Ireland international midfielder struggled to get into the game, and I’m not surprised that we don’t see any connections between the former Blackburn man and his teammates.
Another player who I thought struggled was Elliot Embleton, who was our furthest forward player according to the data.
Embleton switched with Nathan Broadhead during the first half, before eventually being withdrawn in the second half - it was one of those games where the team as a whole struggled to get on the ball, and if you’re a ball-playing number ten, that doesn’t bode well.
Clearly, the early plan was to get bodies around Ross Stewart, but it just didn’t work - Ipswich ate up our long balls for the most part, and we had to become savvier as the game wore on.
Ipswich had a well-structured side with plenty of connections across the team.
They played most of their football out wide, which can be seen in the data, with the full backs 15 and 44 almost on the touchlines.
The Tractor Boys recorded 61% possession, so it’s no surprise to see them with a lot of strong connections - but as the end result showed, having lots of the ball counts for nothing if you can’t convert that possession into meaningful opportunities.
Sunderland recorded 72% passing accuracy on Saturday - and as you can see, most of the unsuccessful passes were long balls played out of defence.
Luke O’Nien and Callum Doyle recorded the most completed passes, but also had the lowest passing accuracy in the team - you win some, you lose some. And, in Doyle’s case, he completed the longest passes of any Sunderland player, showing that he’s brave with the ball at his feet.
This season we’ve seen Sunderland attempt more long passes than they did when compared to the 2020/21 campaign, which means naturally that our passing numbers are worse.
Ipswich’s data is bizarre when compared to the other teams in the divsion.
Before the game, Paul Cook’s side had scored the most goals per 90 minutes in the league, but found themselves sat in 21st when it came to shots per game. And in xG numbers, they sat 11th.
Put bluntly, they’re overperforming in terms of xG to Goals - and Sunderland fans will be reminded of the team Jack Ross had during the 2018/19 season, who had similar data at this level and drew games 1-1 more often than not.
When I checked the ratio, Ipswich are the biggest overperformers on xG to Goals in League One, so to see them record 1.3 xG against Sunderland without hitting the back of the net goes against the trend we’ve seen throughout the season.
In Data Analysis terms, this is called ‘regression towards the mean’.
Two crucial away trips coming up...
Sunderland now must focus on heading back on the road to Shrewsbury and Cambridge in the next week - and with a win under their belts, focus should now turn to putting together a winning run, whilst hopefully improving our overall performance.
This team has regressed when compared to how well they did in September, and whilst we all know the performance wasn’t great on Saturday, most fans feel as though this win can be the starting point for Lee Johnson’s side rediscovering their best form.
Sunderland - 1.2 xG (8th)
Shrewsbury - 0.9 xG (20th)
Cambridge - 0.8 xG (22nd)
Sunderland - 1.3 xG (19th)
Shrewsbury - 0.9 xG (5th)
Cambridge - 1.1 xG (12th)
Whilst Sunderland have a negative xG, that’s mainly due to the huge defeats that we have suffered in recent weeks. Our xG against is towards the worst in the league, which is unacceptable for a team challenging for promotion, and Lee Johnson must address this issue going forward.
Luckily for him, we are facing two teams who seem like ideal opponents if your plan is to pick up wins whilst also keeping clean sheets, stabilising your defence.