Are Sunderland’s automatic promotion hopes now dead and buried?
Losing to struggling Wigan yesterday was a massively bitter pill to swallow for anyone who cares about Sunderland.
The defeat against Charlton on Saturday was tolerable given the quality of opposition and the manner in which the team lost, but yesterday’s loss was different and this time the word bottled fit the narrative.
To throw away a lead against a side largely made up of unwanted free agents and inexperienced youngsters was nothing short of shocking.
Wigan have had almost their entire squad stripped apart this season, yet they still have managed to do the double over an experienced Sunderland side who are meant to be aiming for automatic promotion.
It simply was not good enough and consequently Sunderland’s hopes of a top two finish now rely on either Hull or Peterborough having a shocking end to the season.
Sunderland are now five points behind Posh and eight points behind Hull, the games in hand card has once again proved ineffective, similarly to Jack Ross’ debut season in 2018/19.
Of course, mathematically it still remains possible for Sunderland to go up automatically, but after struggling to beat Wigan you wonder if the squad will be psychologically up for beating Blackpool and Hull away from home.
How Sunderland react to this defeat is pivotal, but until Saturday comes everyone on Wearside will be dreading another potential playoff finale against the likes of Portsmouth and Charlton.
Has Lee Johnson started to tinker with selection too much?
Lee Johnson has been frequently praised for his ability to successfully switch formations and change personnel where necessary, but has he started to tinker a little too much?
The ex-Bristol City boss made four changes from the home defeat against Charlton. Bailey Wright, Denver Hume, Jordan Jones and Jack Diamond came in, with Calum McFadzean, Carl Winchester, Lynden Gooch and Aiden O’Brien dropping out.
The main surprise was seeing O’Brien miss out, as he and Charlie Wyke linked up very well at the weekend as Sunderland created many clear cut chances, the duo just failed to convert them.
Aiden McGeady was trialled behind Wyke, as Johnson has started three different players alongside or behind Wyke in the past three matches.
On one hand you could argue making changes in necessary given the fast turnover of matches, but conversely, constantly changing positions or players can make it difficult for players to develop partnerships or achieve consistency.
A key indication of Johnson making the wrong changes is the consecutive quadruple substitutions he made has made in the past two matches.
Neither set have prompted a change in result and against Charlton the original double changed caused a lack of organisation, which contributed to the team conceding a second goal.
Against Wigan yesterday Sunderland looked worse after the change around and could have easily lost 3/4-1 if Will Keane had converted his second-half chances.
Making too many changes can effect the flow of the match if the players do not get into the match and Johnson yesterday removed Sunderland’s most dangerous player in Jack Diamond.
Overall, it feels like the panic button has been pressed in the past two matches and the large scale substitutions has not positively impacted the end result.
Injuries have not helped at all, but in the past two games Johnson’s changing of players’ positions and his substitutions have simply not worked.
Lee Johnson's post-match reaction.— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) April 13, 2021
Full interview... pic.twitter.com/YJ7LR73dlk
Do more players need to step up and help Charlie Wyke in scoring goals?
Charlie Wyke ended a run of five matches without a goal yesterday, scoring his 23rd League One goal this season, but are his teammates doing enough to contribute?
Bar Grant Leadbitter, who takes penalties, no other Sunderland player has scored five league goals.
Sunderland have scored 61 goals in 40 matches, whilst Peterborough have scored 70 and Hull have scored 71.
If you stop Wyke scoring, there is a good chance you will stop Sunderland, as not enough other players in the squad are doing enough to add goals.
Looking at the players who would usually play alongside or behind Wyke, the league figures make for grim reading:
- Aiden O’Brien - 4
- Lynden Gooch - 4
- Aiden McGeady - 4
- Chris Maguire - 4
- Jordan Jones - 2
- Jack Diamond - 1
- Ross Stewart - 1
When you consider some of the above have made around 30 appearances, there has not been enough support provided to Wyke to ease the burden on him scoring.
It is normal to have a top scorer and a go to player for goals, but when one player is so far ahead of the rest the team becomes over-reliant on them to deliver and when they don’t it is highly noticeable.
Things have improved under Johnson, as the likes of Danny Graham and Will Grigg failed to score league goals before their January departures, but it is still no surprise that Sunderland’s form has declined when Wyke’s goals have dropped.
If Sunderland are to finish the season strongly and achieve promotion to the Championship, it is imperative that more players step up to the plate and stop relying on Wyke to score all the goals.