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Finlay’s Report: Was that Sunderland’s most composed and exciting performance of the season?

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Louis-Dreyfus, Donald and Methven all watched on as Sunderland produced a confident 3-0 win over Burton. Was Saturday’s victory the most composed and exciting performance away from home this season?

Sunderland v Doncaster Rovers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The Kyril Louis-Dreyfus era began with a confident and composed 3-0 victory over Burton Albion at the Pirelli Stadium in Sky Bet League One.

Goals from Grant Leadbitter and Lynden Gooch had put the Black Cats into a sustainable lead at half-time, with the removal of Josh Earl helping Lee Johnson’s side to easily drift to another goal and a professional three points.


The Team...

Lee Johnson made four changes to the starting eleven that helped the team to progress to the final of the Papa John’s Trophy. A switch in formation was utilised by the Sunderland head coach, with injuries forcing Johnson to use a 3-4-3 formation. Aiden O’Brien returned to the attack for the team, with Bailey Wright being unable to play at the heart of defence. Dion Sanderson, who was cup-tied for Wednesday night, returned to the centre-back role. Defence was where most of the changes occurred with both Conor McLaughlin and Jake Vokins returning to the side.

Sunderland Training Session Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

First Half Action

The Black Cats enjoyed a lot of the early possession in the centre of the park, with McGeady continuing his form and trickery by assisting Gooch, before his shot was rocketed off the gloves of the Burton Albion goalkeeper.

A Sunderland goal appeared shortly after with Grant Leadbitter netting his sixth goal of the season. From a free-kick, McGeady supplied the assist for a sixth successive Sunderland goal, with Leadbitter providing the finish to roll the ball into the bottom left corner.

During the opening 45, Burton Albion didn’t provide much of a threat to the Sunderland backline, with their only major opening coming when Brayford’s header was drilled goalwards, but Sanderson sent the ball over the crossbar.

The Black Cats imparted more pressure onto the Burton defence as they searched for a second goal, with McGeady’s shot from Gooch’s cut back being stopped by the Burton goalkeeper, before O’Brien bent his right-footed shot wide of the right post.

Long balls seemed to dictate the play, with Burton utilising this form of attack to try and find their opening, but it was the Black Cats who were composed and found their second, through a picturesque finish from Lynden Gooch.

After Leadbitter’s corner was punched away by Ben Garratt in the Burton goal, Gooch took one touch to bring the ball down; another to roll it onto his left foot, and a final touch to hammer it into the back of the net, via the underside of the crossbar.

The swagger that Sunderland were playing with was expressed when Leadbitter’s effort from around 30 yards out was cheekily attempting to lob the Burton goalkeeper, but it dropped straight into the gloves of Ben Garratt.

Half Time - Burton Albion 0-2 Sunderland AFC

Burton Albion v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Second Half Action

The Brewers came out in the second half with more of a goal scoring intent, with Jonny Smith’s shot being curled goal bound, before being poked onto the bar by Lee Burge.

It may have been a sense of foreboding that this match would have involved lots of cards from the referee, with Craig Hicks displaying 60 yellows during his 22 appearances so far this season, and officiated the game last season where both Max Power and Luke O’Nien were dismissed at Peterborough, in two decisions that were both over-turned.

Hicks gave out ten yellow cards - two of those going to Sunderland assistant manager Jamie McAllister, and Burton boss Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink - as he also dismissed Josh Earl for a second yellow card when a tussle between Aiden O’Brien and Hayden Carter resulted in a melee in the Burton penalty area, before the Sunderland attacker was thrown over the advertising boards by Earl, who was therefore given another yellow, followed by a red.

Jonny Smith proved to be the player that would cause the Black Cats with the most trouble, as he struck the woodwork for a second time, as his left-footed shot struck the left post, before Broom’s follow-up struck the right post, with Burge managed to take grasp of the ball.

Carl Winchester, Jordan Jones and Josh Scowen were all brought on by Lee Johnson - replacing Aiden McGeady, Jake Vokins and Grant Leadbitter - in order to freshen up the midfield and look for a third goal, which shortly arrived.

Charlie Wyke’s goalscoring transition has been remarkable for the Black Cats, and he redeemed his compulsory goal as one of the substitutes, Jordan Jones, slipped a ball through to Wyke, who simply rolled it into the bottom left corner.

With one eye on Tuesday night’s home match against Fleetwood, Lee Johnson made his final two changes within a short range of each other, as both Jack Diamond and Chris Maguire freshened up the attack, as Wyke and Power were allowed to be removed, knowing they played an important part in a consecutive three points.

The final stages of the match were used by the Black Cats in order to perform a composed and professional display to finish the match with a three-goal lead and an important clean sheet for Lee Burge.

Full Time - Burton Albion 0-3 Sunderland AFC

Burton Albion v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Finlay’s Verdict

Arguably, Saturday posed the toughest task of a remarkable and future-changing week at the club. Lee Johnson hasn’t made it any secret, and from Sunderland’s form, the Black Cats struggle against the sides that on paper they should beat.

This was portrayed in the Black Cats’ 2-1 defeat to Shrewsbury, before cruising to a 4-1 victory against Doncaster Rovers last weekend.

Supporters seem to worry more when it comes to playing sides closer to the bottom of the table than the top, so did Saturday’s win against Burton provide the toughest task of the week? There is no doubt that the past seven days have changed the course of Sunderland’s fortunes in the long-term.

Two inspirational wins against Doncaster and Lincoln have put Sunderland’s mindset back to one that believes promotion is still attainable - and rightly so.

Then, a Wembley trip has provided the city with some light in a period of darkness, but as reiterated by Lee Johnson, the players that will want to be playing on the England’s biggest stage of all must perform well in the league.

This was clearly connoted on Saturday afternoon, with the swagger and confidence being expressed in their numbers, and the Black Cats showed just what they are able to do.

Yes, this was against the side bottom of the League One table, but Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s side have beaten the likes of Hull City in previous weeks, and have turned around their form since his arrival, but don’t take anything away from the Black Cats.

Burton are a side that in previous years have caused the Black Cats to struggle, with their physicality being something that the managers have been unable to handle, but a change in manager has had a change in method for the Brewers.

Kyril Louis-Dreyfus would have enjoyed the performance, like many Sunderland fans, with the takeover being pushed out of supporters’ minds.

He is someone that now looks like he is able to take the club forward, and someone that is able to provide certainty for the future of the club.

That future may be looking up if the Black Cats consistently produce similar performances on the pitch, and to the similar standard of that that fans have witnessed over the past seven days.

Each of the players seem to understand their roles - albeit some were moved out of their preferred positions - and all execute their jobs to perfection, with Lee Johnson looking like he is able to continue to get the best out of the squad.

Despite only a couple of weeks ago, promotion seeming unachievable, within a period of time, positivity has bred positivity, and a new dawn is on the horizon.

Two successive victories in League One has placed Sunderland back into the promotion picture, with the help of some other results from teams around them, but over the past week, the Black Cats have dealt with a range of different challenges that have put them in full control of their destiny.

Burton Albion v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images