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Finlay’s Report: Would the ‘old Sunderland’ have snatched a point like they did yesterday?

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Sunderland’s strength in depth served them well as they managed to come back from 2-0 down to draw against Crewe - and the lads who came off the bench to play a huge part now catapult themselves into Lee Johnson’s thoughts ahead of Tuesday.

Crewe Alexandra v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images

The Team

Josh Scowen was brought back into the squad as the only change that Lee Johnson made after Tuesday night’s 2-0 victory over Fleetwood Town, replacing Grant Leadbitter in the centre of the park. Luke O’Nien continued at centre half, where he excelled on Tuesday night, with Dion Sanderson and Conor McLaughlin partnering him in defence. Both Aiden O’Brien and Aiden McGeady played alongside Charlie Wyke in the attack, who looked to damage the Crewe backline.


First Half Action

Crewe occupied Sunderland’s defensive third within the opening stages of the match at Gresty Road, with Tom Lowery’s right-footed drive being sent into the gloves of Lee Burge.

The closest that Sunderland came within a sloppy first 45 was Gooch’s long-range volley, which was thundered against the palms of the goalkeeper, with Wyke’s follow-up being angled over the bar.

Crewe enjoyed the better of the chances within the first half, with Nathan Wood’s looping header from a deep cross dropping on the roof of Lee Burge’s net.

The warning signs were loud and clear for the Black Cats, as a mistake almost had the hosts one-nil up. When McFadzean’s throw was missed by Dion Sanderson, Charlie Kirk was one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but his lobbed shot required Sanderson to direct the ball wide.

When the goal finally arrived for the Railwaymen, it was quite expected, with Sunderland having no excuses when they took the lead.

Ryan Wintle’s through ball found Mikael Mandron, whose easy square pass across the Sunderland goal face, allowed a very easy finish for his fellow striker, Chris Porter.

The Black Cats needed to carefully ride to the half-time interval, but the second goal heaped greater trouble for Lee Johnson’s side, and set the second half up for a heavily-attacking contest from the visitors.

It was the same route with the similar provider, but a different scorer, as Mandron’s cut back found Tom Lowery this time, who rolled the ball into the bottom left corner.

There were early signs of a Sunderland fight back on the cards before the interval, as Scowen’s left-footed shot from just outside of the penalty area was deflected wide of the left post.

Half Time - Crewe Alexandra 2-0 Sunderland AFC

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

Second Half Action

Within moments of the second half, Crewe’s lead was almost three - and Lee Burge would have had his head in his hands if it was. Daniels attempted to cut the ball back into the danger area from the byline, but it was blocked by the Sunderland keeper, diverting the ball out of his control and off the post.

From then, Sunderland gained a foothold in the game and looked to sneak back into the proceedings. McLaughlin’s cross was met by the boot of Aiden O’Brien, whose half-volley was aimed over the bar.

Another cross proved a handful for the Crewe defence, as McGeady’s long ball over their defensive structure found Wyke, whose effort was looped over the bar.

A third successive effort came from the Black Cats, as Max Power tried his luck, but his low effort was driven wide of the left post.

With less than an hour on the clock, Lee Johnson made four changes, and never have four substitutions had such a meaning.

Sunderland were desperate for a new creative touch, something that the manager was able to provide as Jordan Jones, Chris Maguire, Jack Diamond and Grant Leadbitter were brought on, with McGeady, McFadzean, Gooch and O’Brien making way.

That said, Crewe almost put the game to bed just moments after those changes were made - a cross from the left was left to Lowery, whose shot from inside of the penalty area was luckily blocked and sent behind by Dion Sanderson.

It’s rare that a substitute will be removed from play within a couple of minutes of their arrival, but Grant Leadbitter was forced off with a suspected dislocated shoulder, with Carl Winchester replacing him.

The creativity from the four substitutions paid off as Crewe’s lead was halved, with Jordan Jones opening his tally for the Black Cats with a stupendous long-range drive which curled into the top right corner.

Then, clawing us a point back in the dying minutes of added time, an absolutely sublime finish from Maguire sent the ball flying over the goalkeeper and into the back of the net.

With only a couple of minutes left on the clock, Carl Winchester almost gave Sunderland the three points, as he diverted Maguire’s cross goalwards, but it wasn't quite on target and instead dropped onto the roof of the net.

Full Time - Crewe Alexandra 2-2 Sunderland AFC

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

Finlay’s Verdict

With less than two minutes of added time remaining, it was ‘last chance’ territory.

The moment of finesse was completely contrasted to the build-up to the goal - a long ball from Lee Burge being knocked on to find Maguire.

Considering Maguire hasn’t featured much since Lee Johnson came to the club, it was an absolutely spectacular finish from a player that everyone knows has that in his locker.

Despite the goals, credit must be given to the head coach for the changes before the hour mark. It was brave to make as many changes as he did, but he provided the players brought on with a chance to impress, and they all took their opportunity.

The choice of substitutions has been something well marked by Sunderland fans during both Parkinson’s and Johnson’s spells. Would Parky have made four changes all at once in order to sway the match in his favour? Probably not. It’s the small tweaks and changes that make such a major difference over the course of the 90 minutes.

The four substitutions have provided Johnson with food for thought ahead of Tuesday’s match with Swindon Town, but gaining a point shouldn’t sugar-coat Saturday’s performance.

Crewe Alexandra v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images

It was a “typical Sunderland” performance - fans had high expectations heading into it, but we were sent crashing back down to Earth after a torrid opening half.

The tempo was a mile off what fans had witnessed during the past performances, with the tempo and pressure in the final third being largely none existent.

Whilst one point was claimed in heroic circumstances, the performance will be pored over and on Tuesday, Johnson will most likely rotate the squad.

Sunderland still remain in fifth place, with most of the results around us going in our favour, but it goes without saying that two points more would have tasted sweeter.

Sunderland’s unbeaten run continues but our winning streak is over, with Tuesday night’s game against Swindon perhaps becoming more important - another great chance to climb the table.

Whilst we weren’t at our best, the manner in which we clawed our way back into the game perhaps suggests that this new version of Sunderland has a dogged determination about it - I’m not so sure that this team would have got themselves back into the game at the start of the season.

Saturday has opened the door to many potential opportunities, with the challenge of responding still to come.