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Talking Points: Blackpool defeat exposes the problems that Lee Johnson must solve – quickly

Sunderland’s 1-0 home defeat to Blackpool means it’s seven games without a win for the Black Cats. So, how does Lee Johnson turn things around?

Photo by Chris Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

Is now the time for some consistency in team selection?

Lee Johnson had good reason to tinker and change the Sunderland starting eleven throughout his time here. Covid outbreaks, injuries, and the sheer difficulty of keeping his squad fresh throughout a truncated season, all meant changes were inevitable to some extent.

The Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday grind has been even more constant than the normal 46-game marathon that is an EFL season - and that’s before you mention the extra stresses of Covid protocols and keeping players motivated through a season of empty football in crowd-less stadiums.

All caveats aside it’s still staggering how many questions surround this Sunderland team and Johnson’s tactics this late on in the season. It’s almost impossible to work out which formation our head coach prefers and which players he trusts the most.

He seems to like Aiden O’Brien to free up Charlie Wyke, but that can often leave us chasing shadows in midfield and struggling to progress the ball – a major issue against this organised Blackpool team. Sacrifice O’Brien to bring another midfielder in, and all of a sudden our 30-goal striker looks isolated and ponderous, rather than an unstoppable goal machine.

Move on from formations and there are still other questions that need answering. His persistent changes to our central midfield suggest he’s not convinced by any of them. For some reason, Lynden Gooch is given chance after chance to start games, while Jordan Jones is marginalised despite being our most devastating attacker away against the league leaders in his last start.

Johnson needs to find some level of consistency in his team selection between now and the end of the ‘regular season to improve our chances of going up.

Sunderland v Blackpool - Sky Bet League One
O’Brien’s presence may benefit Wyke, but it can leave our midfield exposed
Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

Can Sunderland re-find their swagger in time for the playoffs?

The Blackpool match is probably the first time since our tepid 0-0 draw with Northampton Town where this team has looked completely unsure of itself in possession.

One of the main reasons the first half was so excruciating to watch was that the Black Cats just looked so insipid circulating the ball. Everything was a half-beat slower than it needed to be.

This winless streak has clearly affected the players and our matches against Plymouth Argyle and Northampton Town are now hugely important.

We can’t afford to go into the playoffs this low on confidence.

Against a team with nothing to play for and a side that might be relegated by the time they come to the Stadium of Light. Sunderland must get that winning feeling back, our season rests on it.

Sunderland v Blackpool - Sky Bet League One
Can Hume get back up to speed quickly?
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Sunderland won’t be promoted unless Denver Hume and Bailey Wright get their match sharpness back – quickly!

Watching Bailey Wright play football since he returned from injury has been painful. He looks like an older five-a-side player who can’t run anymore and constantly looks on the verge of blowing his knee out.

With Dion Sanderson out for the season, we simply can’t afford for one of our most talented players to wade around like he’s stuck in cement. The Australian needs to find a way to improve his match sharpness in the next two games or better mask his weaknesses. We have no chance in the playoffs if our most experienced defender is playing this badly.

Hume is suffering in slightly different ways. He’s just lost that spark he was playing with at the start of the season under Phil Parkinson, albeit as a wing-back rather than the more traditional full-back role he’s occupied in the past two games. When I picture Denver Hume playing well it’s him running at defenders, committing players, catching the opposition off guard with his devastating dribbling and deceptive pace.

At the moment there’s none of that, and to make matters worse he’s not yet firing on all cylinders defensively, either. One of the big bonuses this season was the extra aggression and tenacity Hume showed against opposition wingers. It seemed like he’d made a real point of getting stronger during Sunderland’s prolonged break after last season was cancelled.

The issue with Hume is less severe than Wright, even this version of the 22-year-old is much better than Callum McFadzean and his position is slightly less vital to the team’s success. Either way, having two players who started the season as two of our best performers, still finding their form after injury at such a crucial stage of the campaign, is far from ideal.

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