Three goals and a clean sheet! Was that Sunderland’s best performance of the season?
Sunderland achieved a rare win over Burton Albion yesterday, winning 3-0 at the Pirelli Stadium courtesy of goals from Grant Leadbitter, Lynden Gooch, and Charlie Wyke.
The Black Cats dominated the majority of the match, bar a few moments where Lee Burge was forced into making some excellent saves.
The first half was probably Sunderland’s best display of the season, the pressing was incredibly energetic, the players looked confident trying flicks and taking people on, plus there was end product as the two opening goals were both from outside the box.
It was probably the most enjoyable performance to watch of the season and may have filled supporters on Wearside with a genuine belief that Lee Johnson could take Sunderland on a late push towards promotion.
Sunderland look like they are growing in confidence, for once at 2-0 up I was not concerned that the team would collapse and fall to a 2-2 draw.
Admittedly, Johnson’s side were playing against the bottom of the table, so context is required, but Sunderland’s record against the bottom seven has been shocking this season, so it was brilliant to observe a convincing victory.
The club have now won three games within a week, are back into the playoff positions, plus the players are now competing for a starting place against Tranmere in the EFL Trophy final next month.
Whether Sunderland can obtain consistency will determine if we achieve promotion to The Championship, but results like yesterday certainly show we are moving in the right direction.
A return to a back-three - did Lee Johnson choose the best option to combat Sunderland’s injury crisis?
When the team sheets were announced before kick-off against Burton, the main was talking point was that Bailey Wright was missing, and he is set to miss two-three weeks with injury.
The Australian international’s injury meant that he joined Tom Flanagan, Jordan Willis, Arbenit Xhemajli, and Oliver Younger on the sidelines, which left Dion Sanderson as Sunderland’s only fit senior centre-back.
Lee Johnson reacted to this injury crisis by adopting a 3-4-3 system, which Sunderland frequently used under previous manager Phil Parkinson.
Dion Sanderson shone in the middle of the three, accompanied by the vastly improved Conor McLaughlin and a candidate for Sunderland’s most versatile player ever, Luke O’Nien.
This tactical switch allowed Jake Vokins to move into a more suitable wing-back role, with Lynden Gooch on the other side, who put in one of his best performances of this season.
The American was incredibly direct, constantly using his pace and excellent dribbling ability to drive past the Burton defence and create chances - his goal was also a beauty.
Considering the back three was simply a combination of who was available, all three performed brilliantly, with Sanderson especially looking the part.
Johnson deserves credit for showing tactical flexibility, as well as for getting the best out of players either in unnatural positions or who could not get into the team under the previous manager.
McLaughlin’s transition from last season to this season has been miraculous and his best Sunderland performances have all been at right-centre-back, rather than at full-back.
Aiden McGeady and Dion Sanderson are thriving - why was Phil Parkinson so reluctant to play them?
I feel as though Aiden McGeady has dominated the content of recent Quick Kicks articles, but at the moment is it massively difficult to ignore just how well he is playing.
The Irishman assisted Grant Leadbitter’s opener with an intelligent quick set-piece, which meant he has now created nine goals in League One this season, sharing first place on the assist table with former Sunderland captain George Honeyman.
It is a phenomenal achievement when you consider the league campaign started in early August, but the 34-year-old did not feature until December.
McGeady has been absolutely integral since Lee Johnson was appointed, but also to Charlie Wyke’s excellent goal-scoring form.
His brilliant form continues to question the decision that Phil Parkinson made to exclude him, Sunderland were paying arguably their best player a five-figure weekly salary to not even kick a football.
But on the topic of bizarre Parkinson decisions, another highly confusing one was his refusal to include Dion Sanderson, who has also put in some excellent displays since Johnson’s appointment.
The 21-year-old started just one League One match under Parkinson, which led to his parent club Wolves threaten to recall him if his playing time did not increase.
In comparison, Sanderson has started six League One games under Johnson, but also in the majority of games he has not started he has been used from the bench.
It is easy to make these kinds of comments in hindsight, but the decision to not play these two players is baffling when you consider how well they are playing at present.
The duo have both effectively acted almost as new signings for Sunderland since Johnson was appointed.