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Wycombe Wanderers v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One

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Hot Takes: Worrying signs emerge from the Accrington draw - let’s address them quickly!

Sunderland failed to make inroads at the top of the table on Saturday after a frustrating draw with Accrington, with some worrying signs emerging during the ninety minutes.

Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

From a singularly frustrating result, to a wobble, and now we are potentially on the verge of something significantly more concerning - the past week has been extremely costly for Lee Johnson and his team, and although the season is by no means a wrap, we now find ourselves in a rut, scrambling for form and confidence at a crucial time of the season after letting Accrington off the hook on Saturday.

If the concession of a last-minute equaliser against Wycombe was a knock, the midweek defeat to Lincoln - during which we sleepwalked through the ninety minutes - was a major kick in the gut. The net result was two games and one point gained, which made the trip to Lancashire important, if not season-defining.

To that end - what to make of this latest draw, despite scoring early in the second half and playing against ten men for fifteen minutes?

More points dropped, more questions than answers, and a whole heap of frustration.

One thing is clear: Sunderland are still in the automatic promotion race.

We are by no means destined for the playoffs yet, but a swift and sustained upturn in form, as well as some additions to the squad, are needed if we are to maintain a push for an automatic promotion berth.

Wigan failing to cash in on their games in hand would also be a blessed relief, too.

Oxford United v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet League One - Kassam Stadium
Sunderland old boy Max Power has four goals in four games for Wigan - we could do with them hitting a bad run of form!
Photo by Tess Derry/PA Images via Getty Images

Sadly, and not entirely unexpectedly, Saturday’s game had a feeling of deja vu that could’ve been replicated from any number of our away fixtures this season.

There is little doubt that away from the home comforts of Wearside we seem incapable of dominating matches and playing with the kind of conviction that promotion-chasing teams demonstrate.

During the first half at the Wham Stadium we seemed to be caught in two minds, between opting for the aerial route or getting the ball down onto the pitch, zipping it about, and attempting to crack Accrington’s well-drilled system - neither of which yielded much success.

Alex Pritchard was being shackled superbly, and Dan Neil & Elliot Embleton couldn’t exert any real influence on the game.

Lincoln City v Sunderland - Papa John’s Trophy EFL Trophy Photo by Andrew Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

On the midfield conundrum, it is clear that Neil needs a solid, game-breaking powerhouse alongside him. Without that, his own influence on matches can be nullified, and that was the case again.

Rumours of him being linked with a Premier League transfer continue to swirl as well, which don’t exactly help.

On the plus side, the returning Thorben Hoffmann looked in good form, Ross Stewart did the donkey work admirably in another impressive non-scoring display, and Lynden Gooch turned in a much-improved performance, looking far brighter and sharper on the left side.

The second forty-five minutes really encapsulated Sunderland’s woes on the road this season. Aiden O’Brien’s goal, a minute into the second half, might have been incredibly fortuitous, but it should’ve been the spark we needed to push on and drive for the victory.

Blackpool v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Second Round Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Even though we didn’t really move through the gears, the game was there to be won, and when Ross Sykes saw red, a superb opportunity to win became a gilt-edged one.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

From a Sunderland corner, ridiculously, the home side broke away - Callum Doyle and Tom Flanagan got themselves into a tangle, and Mitch Clark slotted home for 1-1.

It was very much a rinse and repeat scenario: fail to kill off a game and run the risk of being pegged back.

Defensively, Sunderland’s issues are so glaring as to be almost visible from space, and we look further away than ever from being a watertight unit for whom conceding goals is viewed as criminal. When Flanagan plays with his head up and a clear mind he often looks like a solid enough presence at the back. When his confidence dips, however, the mistakes and the indecisiveness start to creep in, and that in turn permeates through the entire defence.

Yes, Bailey Wright played well on his return to the team, but we simply have to shore things up in this area, and hopefully reinforcements arrive swiftly.

Abrasiveness, leadership and physicality are three qualities we need to target, and hopefully that is going on behind the scenes.

As for Lee Johnson? He is now in a familiar position: the subject of heavy criticism about his methods and doubt as to whether he remains the right man for the job. The past week hasn’t helped his cause whatsoever, but I don’t think that his position is under threat.

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

On the other hand, Portsmouth on Saturday is now a game of huge potential ramifications, and this dip in form cannot extend beyond four games if he is to keep the doubters at bay.

The margin for error is certainly dwindling and given the past history between us Danny Cowley’s team, not least the way the reverse fixture unfolded, it could certainly be a nerve-shredding afternoon at the Stadium of Light.


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