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Square pegs in round holes: How should Lee Johnson deal with our full-back crisis?

With Gooch & O’Nien filling in at full-back, and two central defenders on the bench, does it make sense to go three at the back, or stick with players doing a job until the likes of Cirkin are fit again?

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Gav says...

I honestly thought that Lee Johnson might have gone three at the back last night, but I suppose that he did make the point after Saturday’s game that a change in system requires a fair bit of work on the training pitch.

It’s often levelled at Johnson that he hasn’t got a plan B, and I’m not so sure that’s entirely fair, but given the current shape of the squad and the fact we lack full backs of any kind right now, I think he’d be wise to try and find a new way of playing for the longer-term benefit of the team.

Luke O’Nien will do a job at left back but I think we probably need someone who can offer more width in that position. Who that player is remains to be seen - Jack Diamond is probably the one winger we’ve got that is best suited to playing as an unorthodox full back, but we loaned him out, so...

The upcoming Oldham game in the EFL Trophy gives us a chance to not only trial a new system, but also a new player on the left hand side - namely Tyrese Dyce, who has had a canny season so far for our U23s.

I know some fans were concerned by Dyce’s pre-season performances but he’s a young player at a new club, and I don’t think we can judge him too much based on a handful of friendly games where he was just finding his feet.

His form for the U23s suggests that he’s improving little by little, and given we have a total lack of left-sided players at the club currently, I see no harm in giving the lad a chance to prove his worth.

I’d also like to see Fred Alves given more of a chance, and going three at the back gives us an opportunity to put him in alongside Doyle and Wright. It also frees Carl Winchester up to play in the middle of the park, where he’s looked good in the brief glimpses we’ve had of him there this season, and it allows Lynden Gooch to play on the other side as our right wing back, which is probably his best position if we’re being honest.

The chief concern here is whether an under-pressure manager has the stones to completely change his system and throw in an inexperienced wing back for good measure. I honestly don’t think we’re likely to see any major change in system until that Oldham game, which means for the time being he’ll probably keep on plugging the gaps with players out of position, like Luke O’Nien, that can ‘do a job’.

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Joseph Tulip says...

I’m open to Lee Johnson using the resources at his disposal to deploy whichever system he feels will be most effective. Of course, we are currently severely restricted in the full back or wing back positions, but I really don’t feel as though Luke O’Nien should be used on the left side any further.

He can do a job defensively there, but all he can do going forward is carry the ball before looking for an easy pass. Against Shrewsbury, O’Nien did this several times, getting well over the halfway line, before almost running into Pritchard and handing him the ball on a plate.

This is not effective from an attacking perspective. We need a full back who can overlap and link up with the more advanced wide man.

O’Nien has proven for three seasons that he can do this at right back or indeed right wing back, but he can’t replicate that on the left.

Lynden Gooch is more suited to playing both sides. He can play left back or left wing back, with O’Nien doing the same on the right, while retaining Carl Winchester in the centre of the park.

If Tyrese Dyce is ready to step up, he should be given a chance to prove himself. I prefer full backs to be on their natural foot, but it’s a case of making do right now for Sunderland.

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Michael Dunne says...

I think three at the back would be a better suit right now.

It’s become a very trendy formation to use at present, but with good reason.

The option of three at the back gives managers the opportunity to utilise pace in their squad whilst getting their wing backs high and wide.

Taking into account the fact we have no full-backs at present, it could be a great opportunity to bring in an extra centre back with two strong wing backs.

Lynden Gooch has been hit and miss thus far, but he certainly has the pace and fitness to play one of the wing back roles. Other options could be Jack Diamond (currently out on loan) or even some of the younger lads such as the aforementioned Tyrese Dyce.

The other positive about trying wing backs is that it may aid Ross Stewart. With the likes of Nathan Broadhead, Aiden McGeady or Alex Pritchard able to play in the ‘10’ role, it would offer us creativity from many sources.

The way Sunderland have been playing recently, it cannot be seen as a bad idea!