Bailey Wright and Luke O’Nien clearly are not working as a pair - how does Lee Johnson fix Sunderland’s defensive issues?
Despite Denver Hume solving the crisis at left-back, Sunderland’s two central defenders prevented a much-needed clean sheet from occurring.
The one thing that has been crystal clear since Dion Sanderson’s injury is that Bailey Wright and Luke O’Nien simply cannot play together.
Against Accrington yesterday, Sunderland’s two central defenders put in a torrid display, and fans are starting to wonder how the club can mount a serious playoff campaign when the team cannot keep a clean sheet.
From the start of the match Wright looked a yard off the pace, he was dribbled past several times and he looks a shadow of the player he was at the start of the season.
It has to be said is that this is not down to Wright’s ability, instead his lack of sharpness and fitness is frighteningly evident. The ex-Bristol City man was thrown back into the side unexpectedly against Wigan through an injury to Conor McLaughlin and if Lee Johnson possessed a fit senior alternative, I think he would have been playing under-23 football or featuring from the bench.
Every Sunderland supporter knows just how good of a player Wright is at this level, but in the past few games we certainly have not witnessed that.
Lee Johnson's post-match thoughts.— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) April 24, 2021
Full interview... pic.twitter.com/yqjRlfa0HH
On the other hand, the O’Nien experiment looks to be starting to show the cracks many expected to occur at some stage.
You have to commend the ex-Wycombe player for his flexibility and willingness to put the team ahead of his personal progress, but yesterday was a prime example of why Sunderland are crying out for a specialist defender to regain fitness.
O’Nien was done in behind for Accrington’s first goal, before a comical error in communication between him and Lee Burge led to a disastrous own goal to level the match.
The 26-year-old has not looked as comfortable since his partnership with Dion Sanderson was broken due to the loanee’s injury.
The question is, how does Lee Johnson fix this problem?
Jordan Willis, Arby Xhemajli, Tom Flanagan, and Conor McLaughlin are all injured too, a crisis any manager would struggle to deal with. Johnson could give Ollie Younger a start, but he is vastly inexperienced and it would be risky to blood a youngster in for a highly-pressurised end to the season.
Another option could be to revert to a back three to give Wright and O’Nien more protection, but that would mean Max Power would likely be the person to accompany them, which would be another player in a position in which they lack experience.
The man who started the season as cover for the first team, Brandon Taylor, seems completely out of favour, so the manager has very few options to call on.
But Sunderland conceded just six goals during their 13-match unbeaten run, since then they have conceded 11 in six matches - something has to change!
Sunderland have now drawn 16 League One matches this season - why is this happening so often?
Lee Johnson’s side have lost the fewest games in League One this season, but they have also drawn the most. Across Sunderland’s three seasons in League One, they have been known as draw specialists, particularly at 1-1.
- 2020/21 - 16 draws in 43 matches
- 2019/20 - 11 draws in 36 matches
- 2018/19 - 19 draws in 46 matches
The main reason for this is that Sunderland have failed to develop a winning mentality throughout their time in the division, you hardly ever see the team kill off games or show any ruthlessness. Far too often the team will go one or two up, then start to become complacent or sit back to preserve a lead, before conceding and dropping points.
Yesterday was a perfect example, after 10 minutes the game appeared over and you expected Sunderland to push on and score more. Instead, the team failed to get started in the second half and then completely collapsed.
Conceding three goals at home is not acceptable at any level or for any team, especially not for a side aiming for automatic promotion. Going into another playoff campaign, the mentality of the Sunderland team is incredibly worrying.
Can the players handle the pressure of a two-legged affair or a final at Wembley against quality opposition?
If Sunderland continue to be known as a side you can grind a point out of and fail to create a fear factor for their opponents, they will continue to draw too many games.
When Peterborough went 2-0 up against Accrington they went on to score seven, that is the difference between a side who achieves promotion and a side who falls short.
They are ruthless, they kill games off, and they do not drop points often from winning positions.
Charlie Wyke has now scored 30 goals this season - how crucial is his form going into the playoffs?
After a run of scoring just once in eight matches, Charlie Wyke scored an excellent first-half brace against Accrington yesterday. He headed in a brilliant cross from Lynden Gooch, before dispatching a first-time finish from an Aiden McGeady cross and he was unlucky not to finish the match with another hat-trick.
Those two goals meant that the 28-year-old became the first Sunderland player to score 30 in a single season since Kevin Phillips during the 1999-2000 campaign - a truly phenomenal achievement.
Wyke’s form this season has come out of the blue when you consider he scored just 11 goals in his first two seasons on Wearside, but the ex-Bradford striker has finally started to repay his transfer fee this season.
In a match of few positives, Wyke’s return to goal-scoring is integral, he is the sole Sunderland player to have scored double figures this term and we have struggled for victories since his dip.
If Sundrland are to mount a serious promotion push via the playoffs, Lee Johnson will need his star striker confident and on-form.
Wyke is just four goals behind Peterborough’s Jonson Clarke-Harris on the League One top goalscorer chart, so it would be excellent to see him score more goals in our last three games to push for the golden boot.
If Wyke stays on form by finding the net against Blackpool, Plymouth, and Northampton, his goals could be what sends Sunderland back to the Championship via the playoffs.