What can we do about so many missed chances?
The first half for Sunderland was very much a case of a good amount of decent scoring opportunities being created, but not quite being taken. To be fair, in places those chances were prevented by some pretty top drawer saves from the Charlton keeper, Amos.
The lads managed to create two decent opportunities as early as the first 12 minutes of the match, and but for the finishing of Charlie Wyke not being as it was a few weeks ago, we could well have been 2 goals up in the first quarter of an hour.
While the creation of so many early attempts on goal carries good signs for other games, the fact we should have been at least one up from that spell and weren’t did provide a backdrop/theme of “so close but so far” for large parts of the match.
On top of all that, shortly after we almost scored from one of those attacks, Charlton hit the post. This reinforces the point that opportunities must be taken whenever possible, as by playing the way we do now, we allow opponents to put us under pressure by counter attacking. Combine that with an opposing team who proved very effective at the physical aspects of the game in our box against our makeshift back 4, and you sometimes get precisely what we got.
In another game, the early Wyke misses and the O’Brien header on 18 mins (which drew another great save from Amos) would have seen us 3-0 up and romping away, as we did in a very similar match away to Lincoln.
Many fans will recall with a smattering of reality that the Imps were unlucky not to get a goal or two early on at Sincil Bank, and our goalie Lee Burge was a big part of the fact they didn't that day, just as Amos was such a key part of the outcome at the SOL on Saturday. On that occasion in Lincolnshire, we took our chances when they couldn’t, and went on to win comfortably. At the weekend, it was simply the other way round.
The key question is, what can we learn from the loss, and how can we get back into winning ways as soon as possible? Hopefully we can learn a lot and do so fast, as we are back in action on Tuesday, and away from home. We need to get those shooting boots polished back up for all of Wyke, Stewart, OBrien, Gooch, Jones and McGeady. We cannot win auto promotion if we don’t take the chances we create, at least more often than not.
Are we back to wasting set pieces?
Once again we wandered into the realm of poor set piece play too much for me, when in earlier parts of our strong run we made great strides by doing totally the opposite. Everything from the “please don’t do that lads” collection came back on Saturday, from us taking too many poorly executed short corners, to us throwing away free kicks in promising positions which were well won, but then sent into the box way too close to the keeper. On the occasions we got wide and deep, too often the cross sailed over the top of our strikers and attacking midfielders, assuming it missed the keepers gloves, which it often did not.
For me there was a general need for better quality with that final ball, be that either from a set piece or from progressive play. When you consider we lost the game to a set piece executed better than most of ours which led to an avoidable own goal (yes, featuring a player climbing on Wyke’s, back which could well have been called a foul), it doesn’t take much consideration to recognise that it can be a result-changing factor at this level. They got a scrappy goal and we did too, that OG from that corner move was the difference.
Even into the second half the trend of poor set piece play carried on. We sent in another poor corner on 51 mins, and failed to make the most of a free kick which was easily cleared on 56m. Even in the last 10 mins, when we had (finally) upped our pace and pressure and were pushing for an equaliser, we put an 88th minute corner straight into the Charlton keepers gloves.
We need to get back to impeccable set piece play, getting goals and creating mayhem in their box to enable goals with those dead ball chances. I am sure this will be a focus of Johnson’s on the training ground between Sunday and Tuesday, and lets hope we can rapidly reverse this dip, to get back where we were not too long ago.
We have good players, did they just have a bad day?
Like many fans I am still confused why a key attacker like Jordan Jones was on the bench while Gooch started the game. On reflection though, this was a game where in fact both those players were really not at their best.
Gooch at times went into his “I can beat everyone” mode, which very occasionally works, but generally results in the ball being given away in midfield just as all our attackers are committing forward for an attempt on goal. This again gives opponents a chance for a counter attack, which Charlton used effectively to regain territory and at times to threaten our goal.
Even the breath of fresh air that is Jones was wasteful a couple of times in the last 15 minutes, passing when we wish he would shoot from the edge of the box (as he proved he can at Crewe from twice as far out). He was not quite as penetrative and direct as he has been earlier in the season, and we missed that, allowing the game to tail out to a loss.
If you add that to the generally poor trend of our lads giving away cheap free kicks in the first half hour, and again in the second half which often led to danger in the SAFC box due to the aerial domination Charlton used well, it is no major surprise we failed to secure any points in this game. We had a bit of a poor day in general with respect to retaining the ball in attack, and we got punished for that.
One thing I cannot understand is why Jack Diamond is on the bench time after time, with the grin of his new contract still turning up the corners of his mouth towards a smile, but he isn’t given a chance to attack the opponents for us? Yes, we threw on 4 subs mid second half to try and win the game, but as mentioned above, Jones was flat compared to his usual self. Both Hume and Stewart failed to make a major impact against a well drilled and organised, experienced Charlton rear guard.
We really needed someone to beat a man, get to the by line and put in a quality ball, and Diamond can do that, especially against a tired and older back four. He wins penalties too, as we have seen. Maybe his chance will come soon, as if Jones’s imminent baby arrival takes him out even for one game, surely Jack will get an opportunity to remind us why we signed him up for another 3 years?
Any reason to overreact?
To an extent we have have to accept that for every 13 games we go unbeaten, we will have the odd bad day at the office. Even when you have two thirds of possession and create over twice the shots on target as your opponents, you can lose due to defensive issues including an unnecessary own goal. If you don’t strike while the iron is hot, such things can be the margin by which you lose out.
I have no doubt that Lee Johnsons answer to this question would be “no”, we do not need to panic. We need to remember the upsides of the match, fix the down sides, and go out and correct the dropped points against Wigan in the week. We are very much still in this promotion race, as even with that loss we have still lost 4 less games this season than all the teams around us, and more than that the lower you go in the top half of the table.
Those around us can lose again, so we need to up our points tally back to where it was, and pounce when the chance arises.
If we cannot, then prepare yourselves for yet another play off run, lads and lasses...