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Sunderland v Manchester United U21 - Papa John’s Trophy

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All of Sunderland’s full backs are injured - so how can Lee Johnson adapt his side?

Dennis Cirkin, Denver Hume and Niall Huggins are all out until January, meaning Lee Johnson needs to find a new way of playing over what will be a busy six weeks til the transfer window opens. What should he do?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images


In Lee Johnson’s post-match interview with Barnesy on BBC Newcastle, he hinted that the way forward would probably be to utilise his deep pool of central defenders and wide players in order to change to an entirely new system - some variation of a 3-5-2.

That said, for most of our players this isn’t really a new system.

When Phil Parkinson was manager it was his favoured tactical set up, and as we’ve discovered this season, lots of the teams we face at this level prefer to use some variation of the three/five man back line, so it’s not like it’s totally alien.

Although, Johnson did say he’d probably need three or four weeks on the training ground in an ideal world, mainly as you are required to press differently.

To me, this would make the most sense.

It forces us to go with two up top, and that’s great news for Nathan Broadhead and Ross Stewart, who are both very busy players capable of doing just about every role required of a modern day striker.

Out wide, we could get Lynden Gooch into what I have felt for some time is his best position - as a wing back.

And then at the back, it enables Johnson to get three central defenders on the pitch - and with Tom Flanagan, Fred Alves, Arbenit Xhemajli, Bailey Wright and Callum Doyle all vying for those positions, it makes things so much more flexible for the manager when it comes to giving crucial minutes to all of those players.

Whilst I have sympathy with Johnson when he bemoans the lack of time he has on the training ground to perfect this system, to me, it makes the most sense, and perhaps the best way forward is to implement a hybrid model that mixes learning on the job with important work out on the training pitch.

Sunderland v Cheltenham Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

O’Nien at left back?

I think Luke O’Nien had his best game in ages on Saturday, playing out of position on the left - he seems at his best when he’s asked to perform an unusual role, and whilst he wasn’t perfect, he did a really good job of keeping Sone Aluko quiet.

There’s a growing school of thought amongst the fanbase that O’Nien should be put back into a full-back role more permanently, and he certainly did himself no harm with a cracking performance against a strong player in Aluko, who has a tonne of experience and has had a canny season so far since arriving at Ipswich in the summer.

There are two big issues that I can think of when it comes to O’Nien as a longer-term left-back option - one, he’s not left-footed, and two, his shoulder dislocates about twenty times a game, meaning he’s likely to get targeted during games, and can’t take throw-ins.

But, we’re in a bit of a crisis, and needs must.

It wouldn’t be my first option, but if we had to play Luke at left-back more often, I wouldn’t complain. He can do an adequate job there, all things considered, and I doubt he’ll come up against many better players than Aluko, who he pocketed with ease.

Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Tyrese’s time to shine?

Other than sticking people out of position, what other options do we have?

Naturally, people will point to the free-agent market, but I just can’t see it - by the time you get an out of contract player up to speed, it’ll be almost January anyways, and we simply don’t have the time.

The only other alternative, then, is to give one of our U23s a go.

Ciaran Dunne has just returned from serious injury, and as Alan Nixon of The Sun reported over the weekend, it looks like he’s set for a move back to Scotland on loan.

From what I’ve seen of him this season, Nathan Newall is still a far way short of what you’d need from a youngster being introduced into the first team, leaving us with only one other genuine option - Tyrese Dyce.

Dyce was actually featured a fair bit in pre-season by Lee Johnson, but looked very raw having only just arrived at the club, and was soon shunted back to the U23s.

To his credit, he’s done pretty well for our youngins in the PL2, and has shown adaptability in a variety of positions.

He was given his first-team debut in the EFL Trophy when Manchester United U23s visited the Stadium of Light last month, scoring the opening goal of the game as we went on to win 2-1.

We play Oldham in the next stage of the EFL Trophy in just over a week, and if I was Lee Johnson, I’d be tempted to use that as an opportunity to trial Dyce in that left-hand side role - perhaps even as a left wing-back - against a rugged, League Two side, and see how he does.

Why not? We’ve got nowt to lose. Maybe this is Dyce’s time to shine!

Sunderland v Manchester United U21 - Papa John’s Trophy Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

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