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Groundhog Day at Sunderland: “I watched the highlights, and it reveals repetitive mistakes”

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Having gone back through Sunderland’s highlights in 20/21, Brandon Feeley’s finding reveals some concerning trends that are yet to be addressed.

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Keeper Weakness

Lee Burge and Remi Matthews have both shared the keeping responsibilities this season, and unfortunately have made individual errors. The side effect of such a thing is the defenders then become more occupied with the keeping, rather than the defending, and forget to defend.

Opposition teams after 26 games know this, and constantly exploit such issues. Teams recently are beginning to shoot on sight more as both keepers have made errors in routine saves or collecting a cross. As a consequence of shooting more on sight, opposition forwards are also running into the box when the shot happens in case the ball follows through.

Example of this include:

Mk Dons 2 -2 Sunderland

Both goals are from balls into the box. One rebound and one-shot which crosses paths with Cameron Jerome.

Sunderland 1-1 Burton

Forward runs in as the shot happens and Matthews spills an easy save.

Sunderland 1-1 Hull

Set Piece fired into the box, Burge spills easy catchable ball.

Shrewsbury 2-1 Sunderland

Cross into Matthews which isn’t dealt with and the ball goes behind him. Matthews also spilt an easy free-kick into the net (which got disallowed somehow).

So, all these four examples are all similar incidents which involves either shooting on sight and targeting the keeper with crosses. They know it is a weakness and this creates plenty of unease for players and fans when the keeper isn’t reliable.

Lincoln City v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Lee Burge v Lincoln
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Full back blunders

Moving away from keeping errors is a catalogue of issues found in the full back position. Stopping the crosses from going into the box is extremely important, you can’t always stop a cross, but there are way too many examples of this happening. I’ll highlight an example under Phil Parkinson, and then Lee Johnson.

Rochdale 2 -2 Sunderland

Both goals come from a cross where Alex Newby does a similar move by switching the ball from Left to Right quickly to gain half a yard. His first victim is Denver Hume then Bailey Wright for the 2nd. Not only do we fail to prevent the cross, Rochdale have midfield runners in the box which aren’t picked up for either goal. This is all coachable and down to awareness.

Sunderland 1-2 Plymouth

I couldn’t decide whether this is clever by Plymouth or just naïve by Sunderland. The first goal comes from a cross from the left back position (again!). We have a lot of men saturating the box in anticipation for a cross and Conor Grant peels out wide for Plymouth. In the footage, McGeady tracks back for Sunderland but loses his man who crosses the ball. Coachable for Lee Johnson, but annoying to see.

The second goal is very annoying to watch. We have a player marking each Plymouth player from a throw-in. Now this is where the goal comes from, McGeady this time actually does his job and sticks with his player well. McFadzean loses eventual goal scorer Joe Edwards by ball watching and not marking Edwards. A pass is deflected into Edwards path who scores. That is all down to doing the basics and coaching issues.

McFadzean is at fault for losing his man and focusing on a job that isn’t his responsbility.

Other notable example of goals from crosses include:

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Sunderland must defend smarter as a team
Photo by John Cripps/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

What can Sunderland do better?

When you have defensive injuries and a busy schedule it is hard to see what Lee Johnson is able to do about this. Having a consistent back four and keeper is the obvious answer, but I’m not sure what Johnson can do with the injury list right now. If Johnson does anything, he must stick with Lee Burge in goal.

He should also give Vokins a chance to adapt - he’s looked extremely rash and inexperienced in the first couple of starts against Mk Dons and Shrewsbury, but I’m confident that Vokins needs to just settle down and learn his role more.

If Vokins joins and played perfect from minute one then Southampton wouldn’t have loaned him out - let’s give Vokins time to adapt.

Finally, do the basics better. We had a strong defence until the last few games and this must be addressed. Too many of the goals conceded in the article are basic mistakes. Preventing crosses and defending them is something I’d have to focus on the training ground because teams know we don’t do enough to prevent scoring from the cross.

Luckily enough, the correct training and coaching from Lee Johnson and his backroom staff can iron out that crease, but it takes time.

Further breakdowns on goals can be found on my twitter @BrandonFeeley97