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Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One

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Talking Points: Where do Sunderland go from here? Is Goochy a right back? And... what changed?

Our Malc looks back on the key Talking Points emanating from Sunderland’s uncharacteristic loss and bad performance on Tuesday night, now that the dust has settled. Owt to be concerned about?

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

How is it possible to have two games so very different, yet so close together?

From the outset on Tuesday we were sloppy, wasteful, leggy, and underwhelming. The 28,000+ fans who had braved the cold probably wanted the ref to check the ID of the lads out on our (rather rough-looking) paddock to confirm we had the right team out there. For the first fifteen minutes, I wondered if we had left our creative, attacking crew stranded in the ‘sold out’ Wycombe Wanderers car park.

While Lincoln made it clear from the early minutes they did not come to take us on with open attacking football, the tactics they used seemed to work out perfectly for them, and their leadership team deserves some credit for that. They prevented us having any width, which wasn’t hard given Gooch offered next to nothing down the right-hand side.

Lincoln also played tight and compact lines through the midfield, keeping most of their team in their half and nipping at our ankles to break us down. When given a chance to try out their willingness to hit on the counter against our very makeshift back four, they did so.

There were two main reasons for the difference in the two games - Lincoln really wanted it, and got their tactics pretty spot on, led by their wronged ex-Sunderland frontman with a point to prove; and we didn’t want it half as much as we did at the weekend, while the coaching staff also got our setup wrong, and then didn’t know how to fix what was clearly broken from the start.

The team underperformed very soon after what must have been an exhausting away six-goal draw, but the coaching staff have a lot of questions to answer about how we were set out. I’m sure they will be reviewing this one with a lot of focus, as we cannot play like that and expect to maintain the good situation we have recently found ourselves in.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One
Evening Gaffer. That ones for you.
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Is Gooch a right back?

When the team sheet came out I was surprised to see that the Trai Hume wasn’t at least on the bench, but I know from past experience Johnson does not like to rush players in. When it played out that Gooch was at right-back, the worry beads started rattling from the jar across my living room before a ball had even been kicked.

While I appreciate Lynden is being asked to do a job out of position, I am pretty sure across all the games I have seen that he’s rarely had anything positive to contribute from the right back position.

When we switched him to left back/left wing back earlier in our injury struggles, he did well (his performance away at Cambridge was very good, even in very challenging weather).

There were issues all over the pitch with the shape and tactics we used against Lincoln, but I won't be alone in saying that was one of the weakest performances from Gooch for a considerable time. He gave the ball away too often, and he seemed jittery and negative when offered the chance to take on his man out wide. He over-hit the subtle passes, under-hit required clearances, and in more simple terms, he had a stinker.

When he stayed out there on 65 minutes while Jack Diamond was pulled to let Aiden O’Brien on, I could have been knocked down with a feather. He was partly to blame for at least one goal, and the number of times his man was left with way too much space was pretty criminal, even for a stand-in player.

Opponents will be watching that game back hoping to play us with him in defence, as he was woeful. He wasn’t alone, but he was some way worse than many of his teammates.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One
Gooch - not a name the crowd were signing on Tuesday evening…
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

What on earth was up with our pitch?

Yes, most of the lads had a bad day at the office and so did the coach with his approach for me, but the pitch was awful.

This has to be a major disappointment given it was re-laid in the summer with the aim that we can develop a free-flowing playing style, and express that on our own patch. You may get a good sandcastle from the SOL pitch right now, but enabling clean passing football feels like a massive challenge.

The fact that we went to Wycombe and played as well as we did on a really nice lush surface, it is not coincidental that we almost took all three points.

We came back and three days later had to play on a muddy paddock, which for some reason the groundstaff decided to water before the match.

Even if we have all our playing staff back, putting them out on a surface that does not support our ambitions and ways of playing is not equipping them for success.

With several months of winter still to come, it may get worse before getting better.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Chris Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

So, where do we go from here?

We go to Accrington on Saturday, we brush ourselves down and we get back to winning ways. That is the only response that will suffice right now.

Most reasonable-minded fans knew that we would have an odd off-day sometime between now and later in the season, and having one of them when the squad is so depleted and three days off the back of a six-goal thriller should not be a major surprise to many of us.

We need to review and learn from all that just hit us, get a couple of players back from isolation or the physio room, and get a shape ready to take on whatever challenges the Stanley lads throw at us.

We cannot see another combined instance of player lethargy and tactical inadequacy as we did on Tuesday night.

We cannot allow another three-game slump, as that will drop us out of auto spot contention and we will find it incredibly hard to get back in, especially with playing five more games than the likes of Wigan.

This is far from the end of the season, but we have to show spirit, tenacity, and react to this loss, and very soon. The pressure is back on for the first time since October. Let’s see how the lads fair.

Our job as fans is to keep the faith, as that is all we can offer.

Accrington Stanley v Rotherham United - Sky Bet League One - Wham Stadium
Wham! We need 3 this weekend.
Photo by Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images

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