Sunderland lost 2-1 away against Steve Cotterill’s Shrewsbury on Tuesday, which was their first away defeat of the 2020/21 campaign. The Black Cats remained in seventh place, but are now eight points away from the automatic promotion places, whilst Salop moved nine points away from the relegation spots.
Lee Johnson’s men took the lead early on when Aiden O’Brien broke through and found the net and Sunderland were unlucky not to extend their lead before half-time. However, Sunderland started the second half poorly and a calamitous error from Remi Matthews allowed Salop to equalise. Shrewsbury then secured all three points when poor tracking from Jake Vokins allowed on-loan winger Harry Chapman to fire his side to victory.
How does Lee Johnson address Sunderland’s goalkeeping issues?
Tuesday night was an entirely embarrassing experience for Remi Matthews and joined a list of calamitous performances he has put in since joining on a free transfer from Bolton Wanderers in the summer.
Signed on a one-year deal, the 27-year-old was likely signed on the back of his previous experience of working with former manager Phil Parkinson, but he has done absolutely to suggest he is capable of being a competent goalkeeper at League One level.
During the first-half Matthews appeared steady and relaxed, but his second-half display was nothing short of a shambles and I actually started to question if Lee Johnson may have to take him off.
For Shrewsbury’s equaliser Matthews failed to collect a Donald Love cross, which gave Ebanks-Landell the easiest of taps ins - the mistake completely flattened the team psychologically and led to their collapse.
He was helpless for the second goal, but the linesman absolutely bailed him out from what would have been a comical own goal.
Matthews was positioned poorly when the cross came in and he then appeared to fail to smother the ball which led to it crossing the line.
It would have been a Sunday league esque error and the Sunderland players did not even appeal for the offside decision which bailed him out.
His performance has created a difficult predicament for Lee Johnson, as dropping Lee Burge implied he felt he was underperforming, but his replacement has proved to be even more error-prone.
Should Johnson admit he made a mistake and restore Burge, should he stick with Matthews out of stubbornness, or should he hand an opportunity to academy graduate Anthony Patterson to show he deserves to be Sunderland’s number one?
Is Lee Johnson contradicting himself with his team selections?
During press conferences, Lee Johnson has continually expressed his desire to add more pace and power to the Sunderland starting XI, but he continues to leave out players who are more energetic and dynamic.
Despite playing 90 minutes in the previous match and looking incredibly exhausted, Johnson dropped Luke O’Nien instead of 35-year-old Grant Leadbitter and played him for another 90.
I spoke last week about the praise Leadbitter deserves for turning his Sunderland career around, but since Johnson swapped from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-2-2 system he has been criminally exposed for his inability to press and stay involved in the match.
With other options such as O’Nien and promising academy graduate Dan Neil available, I cannot understand why Leadbitter is persisted with and never rested when it is clear to see he struggles to play in a two-man midfield.
Also, upfront Johnson seems to prefer the combination of Aiden O’Brien and Charlie Wyke, but neither of those possess pace or running ability, they both like the ball to feet or to be fed chances inside the box.
The duo were productive first half and did combine well for the opening goal, but overall their movement was poor and Sunderland did not do enough when they fell behind to come back into the match.
Against MK Dons in the EFL Trophy it appeared Sunderland had turned a corner stylistically when they fielded a team full of energy and pace on the break, but since the selections seem to have moved away from that.
Overall, yesterday Sunderland used Dion Sanderson, Luke O’Nien, Lynden Gooch, and Jack Diamond all from the substitutes bench, players who are some of the fastest and most energetic within the squad.
Can Lee Johnson continue to discuss a high press style and a need to add more pace to the team if he not starting the players who can add that?
Is it time to give Dion Sanderson a proper first-team chance?
Many Sunderland fans have discussed their continuous surprise of seeing Dion Sanderson being named on the bench, but now Jordan Willis looks set for a long-term spell out injured, is it time to give the on-loan Wolves defender an extended run in the team?
Since Johnson was appointed he has chopped and changed the defence around, which in his defence was largely down to injuries to Willis, Denver Hume, Conor McLaughlin and Luke O’Nien, but Sunderland have rarely had a settled back four.
With Willis and Tom Flanagan both currently injured, I believe Sanderson deserves a run alongside Bailey Wright to provide Sunderland with some continuity, as well as giving the players a chance to build a partnership.
The 21-year-old was largely ignored by ex-manager Phil Parkinson, prompting speculation that Wolves would recall him, but although Johnson has increased his involvement he has still been reluctant to start him.
Despite a below-par first few starts against Mansfield and Rochdale, lately when Sanderson has been called upon he has looked reliable defensively and composed playing out from the back.
Also, because he possesses excellent pace and enjoys stepping in to distribute the ball, he is the most viable like-for-like replacement for Willis out of Sunderland’s other defensive options.
If Johnson is happy to persist with Max Power at right-back, there is no reason why Sanderson should not start at centre-back alongside Wright against Doncaster on Saturday.