Matt Smith says... “Character will be key!”
Although the cliché would have you believe otherwise, you’re not ‘only as good as your last game’ which is just as well and must be a huge relief for LJ, the squad and fans. The tactical and selection decisions for Saturday ought to be influenced by three key factors: coherence, character and - stubbornly resistant to alliterative niceties and potentially disruptive to the first of these three - squad management.
Coherence requires LJ to resist the urge to throw the baby out with the bath water by making unforced radical changes to formation or personnel. The same applies to his approach to substitutions. Two bad halves may make for a disappointing evening in a recently reopened beer garden but it does not a slump make. The game plan that got us this far can get us further but it needs players who are invested in the club’s success.
So character will be key. Sanderson’s injury is a setback but as a loan player whose performances have probably already ensured he will be playing at least Championship football next season there was always a risk that his form may have dipped anyway.
He’ll be a loss but it’s an opportunity, pardon the pun, to blood Younger players whose experiences could prove crucial next season. It would be unfair to call Maguire the elephant in the room, not so much because of his size but because he’s the name on all lips at the moment. Linked with the importance of coherence, if he’s not showing the necessary attitude in training or around the squad then, unless your McGeady, exceptions can’t be made to whatever expectations have been laid down by the gaffer.
That said, he could be useful in addressing the final factor influencing selection.
With games raining down like the month’s famed showers, managing the squad will be critical to get us through April’s fixture congestion. Will McGeady be able to play every game? How can team coherence be balanced against the need to rotate players to maximise fitness? These are questions for later fixtures but it’s some comfort to know that Hull and, especially, Posh face the same problems.
Phil Butler says... “sort the defence!”
With the two recent defeats making it a few games since Sunderland’s once-formidable defence kept a clean sheet, I’d be looking for ways to strengthen the side defensively whilst not losing too much of our attacking play.
Luke O’Nien has done his stint at centre back, and it’s good to know that if we suffer another injury crisis he can fill in there, but I think now is the time to play a 4-3-3 and that means O’Nien, being the only Sunderland midfielder who offers a goal threat, needs to play there.
This change is more difficult due to the recent injury to Dion Sanderson, but with Wright back I’d be picking either Ollie Younger or Conor McLaughlin to go beside Sunderland’s vice-captain, and would prefer to see Power at full-back with O’Nien in the middle.
Sunderland’s play has lacked intensity for the last couple of games, moving O’Nien further forward could be the way to solve this.
Malc Dugdale says... “round pegs, round holes”
On personnel, I think Lee needs to take a good look in the mirror and at the squad, and see where he can apply a bit of consistency across the team for the remaining 6 games.
At times I do feel he has gone the other end of the scale from Parky and meddled a bit too much, and that can cause more harm than good.
Pick the spine of the team and vary the players around that spine in the main in line with tactics would be my thinking. We cannot expect clean sheets to return immediately with the injured players, but if we give areas and players a chance to re-gel this will happen faster.
For me, as I have said in other articles and in pods too, we need to get the right characters and players into their natural positions, and use our playing ability and tactical advantages to get three points. I’d like Wright to keep playing, as we will need him at the centre of our defence for the rest of the season, especially now we don’t have Sanderson, so we will probably use Bailey with McLaughlin or Flanagan for the play-offs.
I’d like Luke in the middle with Winchester and one other (maybe Jones atop of the diamond), and I’d like wingbacks (Gooch and Hume) plus wingers (Geads/Diamond) to overlap and get service into Wyke. I’d like to see threat on the bench from Maguire and others not picked, and I’d like them to be added with tactical timing, not as a huge blob that then gives the oppo an upper hand while they settle.
The mindset has to be we are a good squad for this level, and if we win the rest and others slip up we can still nick second. Whatever happens, we need to become a team again with pride and desire for 90 mins every game.
If we can have a new run less than half the length of the last one and win most of them, we still have a sniff at the autos. If the sniff fades, we need to know our best 17 for the playoff battles, so as a minimum let’s work that out before the first leg, and get our pride for the badge back in place.
Gary Engel says... “Unleash Hume!”
Lee Johnson and Sunderland need to regroup quickly. After a couple of months of only highs, we’ve suffered our first back-to-back defeats under Johnson when it really matters. Plus, we have to reshuffle our backline again to fill the void left by Sanderson’s devastating, season-ending injury.
Wright needs to step up and marshall our backline as he did earlier in the season. While Power also has to influence things wherever he is played.
If we can properly unleash Hume down the left in an attacking sense, it could free-up McGeady somewhat. Recently, sides have doubled up on McGeady which has reduced his ability to influence the game. Few sides will be able to cope with both McGeady and Hume.
The thing I’ve noticed recently is how, at times, isolated Charlie Wyke has been. The chopping and changing hasn’t helped his cause. Are we playing a midfielder behind him, a like-for-like striker alongside or three attacking midfielders behind to bomb forward? All have been tried and failed to address the conundrum.
Personally, I would give O’Nien a bash. Play 4-2-3-1 with O’Nien bridging the gap between midfield and Wyke. It would help protect our backline and so addressing our two biggest problems.
Ant Waterson says... “Bring back Maguire!”
There's absolutely no doubt Sunderland MUST win on Saturday. It’s sod's law that we are coming up against a team who are fifteen games unbeaten.
Personally, I would like to see Chris Maguire back in the squad in some form. He has the ability to win a game on his own and it’s baffling to me why he seems to have totally lost the confidence of the manager.
For the first 25 minutes or so on Tuesday, Sunderland were decent. But terrible set play defending allowed Wigan to take over and we were terrible once Wigan equalised.
I would personally stick with the front four chosen on Tuesday for Saturday. Jack Diamond has a great game and should stay in. Bailey Wright must come into the equation as well.
This is the business part of the season now, and we need to get back to our best and hope for a bit of luck. It will be a shame to have worked so hard and it all be for nothing.