Lee Johnson made one change from the side which defeated Plymouth 3-1 away last week, with Charlie Wyke replacing Ross Stewart up top.
The Scot had a great game last week, but was forced out with a grade two hamstring tear and is a doubt for the League One Playoff games. Aiden McGeady also returned to the bench, as Ollie Younger dropped out of the 18 entirely.
CHECK IT OUT!
Hover over the interactive chart below to see the threads of passes made by Sunderland players to one another during the game. Thanks to Steve Tiltman for this - be sure to check out future editions of Talking Tactics for more interactive analysis just like you see here!
Chris Maguire’s Impact
The Scot is widely expected to leave Sunderland at the end of this season and return north of his border – where his family already live. However, he was brought off the bench after 52 minutes against Northampton, replacing Conor McLaughlin.
In general, most of the players went for a more pedestrian approach in the game, afraid of picking up any potential injuries or suspensions that may have ruled them out the two legs against who we now know is Lincoln City. However, Chris Maguire could be a not-so-secret weapon for Lee Johnson in the upcoming games.
He has always performed best at the biggest stage – be it on television, or in the context of the last 18 months – in front of a raucous crowd. Maguire will be keen to go off on the highest of highs, and has become an interesting “advanced playmaker” of late.
I often call his role in the attack as a “Quarter-Back”, as he is keen to follow the ball, create and dictate high up the pitch. He did this again on Sunday, shadowing the ball and creating more opportunities for his teammates than the rest of the side (except for Jordan Jones).
Maguire completed just 13 accurate passes on the night but did have more progressive passes than any other midfielder, completed 75% of his aerial duels and 66% of his crosses.
I don’t think he should start, but as an impact substitute, his role would be clear in the upcoming games. In fact, Maguire had the second-highest expected threat (xT) of all Sunderland players barring Jones once again.
Maguire has been lauded by some as a brilliant player who changes the game for us all the time. Now I don’t quite think this is true all the time, his proclivity to find a man and create in advanced areas makes him arguably our most natural and creative attacking midfielder.
Lynden Gooch, when deployed there, supports the central striker and drifts wide more, while Aiden O’Brien is favoured for his work-rate and ability to pull an opposition central defender from Wyke.
Late in games, Maguire’s vision, set-piece threat, and canny knack of making big-game contributions must not be overlooked.
Jones as a Central Threat?
One of the more intriguing tactical developments in what was essentially a dead rubber that Lee Johnson used as a practice match was the deployment of Jordan Jones over the course of the game.
While he usually is tasked with patrolling either wing high up the pitch, here he played far more of a central-supporting role to Wyke. As displayed in his average position below:
Jones has 66 touches, completed 75% of his passes, 75% of dribble attempts, had three shots on goal (including his brilliant effort that hit both posts in the lead up to Carl Winchester’s goal, won 10 of his 14 ground duels and completed 6 tackles.
He clearly has the pace, trickery and ability to play a more central role, especially considering Geads’ twin lack of form and fitness, and he did complete just 2 out of 13 attempted crosses.
When he did go wide, he wasn’t exactly successful. However, the visualisation below shows the level of impact he had on the game playing as a second striker, and if the Lads were trying here, he would probably have contributed greatly to a better result.
Lee Johnson clearly used this game to experiment in order to see how his attacking players would cope in different roles and trios.
We replaced almost every member of the attack and each of them barring Geads & Wyke played in more than one position over the course of the game. Perhaps Jones playing a more central role is a trick up our sleeve ahead of the play-offs.
Pressing is Back
While largely allowed by Northampton’s own deep defensive line, our own defence’s average position in the game was in the opposition half. In general, we looked far back to our usual selves off the ball in the final third, pressing with aplomb.
Aside from a nervy spell in each half, we limited Northampton from progressing with the ball from defence. The passes allowed per defensive action within 60 yards of the opposition’s goal (PPDA60) was the highest since the Doncaster victory, and it is exactly how we slaughtered Lincoln 4-0 down at Sincil Bank earlier in the season.
As a side, we completed 63 defensive actions – 30 of these were in the opposition half and 10 in the final third alone:
For a while, Lee Johnson stripped back the work off the ball in order to stop leaking goals as much, however, Lincoln’s central defenders make mistakes when pressed on the ball.
Jorge Grant is injured and isn’t there to bail them out as much as earlier in the season – it is auspicious to see LJ preparing the Lads to play so high up the pitch and press again. We won't see this early on in either game, and perhaps not at all away from home due to their pace up top, but against Lincoln, offense is the best form of defence.