Tony Mowbray made one change for Sunderland’s Monday night game against West Brom, and it was a surprising one as Jack Clarke was replaced by Elliot Embleton on the left wing. Not only is this only the third time Embleton has played this position this season, but also the first time Clarke has missed out while available.
This was potentially partly to give the winger a rest, but also likely to try & stem the threat of Jed Wallace on the away side’s right-hand side with the more defensively-minded Embleton.
In the first half, we played on the front foot and looked to expose West Brom’s more workmanlike midfield. We stole the ball 6 times in their own half and 52% of our attacking play was through Amad, who was excellent again. Every single “big chance” came from a turnover in the opposing half including the move which led to the opening goal. The visitors looked surprised by the pace of our play and their willingness to push high and press in numbers. Their pivot in Okay Yokuslu and Jayson Molumby is generally quite defensively solid and physical. However, they lack the technical ability of many other midfielders in the league and have tended to struggle all-season long when faced up against pressing teams. This is where we found most joy - dictating proceedings in the middle of the park as all three central players (Evans, Neil & Pritchard) played well in this phase of the game and offered their pairing almost no time whatsoever on the ball.
At half-time, Corberan instructed his players to play the ball far quicker and to push up to try and pin us back in our own half - thus nullifying the threat on the counter and our pressing system. On average, their defensive line moved 15 yards up the pitch in the second half compared to the first, and this succeeded in pinning us back. Our midfield became congested and was not able to work the ball out effectively enough. Still, however, the visitors lacked the quality to make their domination tell. They had over 65% of possession and territory from the 45th-70th minute but still failed to score.
Jed Wallace was their main out ball and he impressed all night. 13 of his attempted passes into the final third (20) were crosses, and 5 of these found a man. Yet, still, they could not find a way through. Until Corberan made 4 substitutes in the space of 7 minutes and turned the tide. Less than 12 minutes after his introduction, Tom Rogic scored despite the fact WBA were down to 10 men and still had 3 men free on their attack. It was really poor defending, yet still the Spanish boss changed their entire midfield as ours began to tire in the difficult conditions.
Tony Mowbray, by contrast, only made 2 subs in the first 88 minutes and when Corberan changed things, reacted by switching to a back-three to try and stop Wallace’s influence. Cirkin was brought on so he & Aji Alese could double up on Wallace. However, by this point, the Sunderland side were so deep in our own half that it merely invited far more pressure and was scrapped 15 minutes later. He got the decision totally wrong. It is easy to say with hindsight but legs in midfield (Ba) & a runner (Roberts) to help the isolated Simms up top would’ve pinned the away side back and stopped all the momentum they were carrying up the pitch. Wallace would, on average, pick the ball up over 40 yards from our goal in the first half - in the second it was 28.
As you can see above, Wallace is very much a winger’s winger. He’s almost a throwback to the late 90s and early 00s. But if you can limit his ability to run at you on the right and whip a ball in, then generally he doesn’t contribute much to the game. Yet on Monday, he completed more crosses than in his previous 8 games combined.
Our narrow style and inability to press nor have any territorial advantage played into their hands & their proclivity to control the wings and win games from out wide. The Lads looked like they came out in the second half wanting to cruise the rest of the game with it all settled at 1-0, but I’m not sure if this was complacency or just naivety - both on the pitch and touchline.
Mowbray had to make earlier substitutions, as players tire more in cold snaps like Monday night. Injuries occur from fatigue and muscle fatigue is heightened by the constriction placed upon muscles in cold weather. But when he did make them, it was too late and wrongly applied. He got it wrong and will probably privately admit to that, but everyone makes mistakes & the loss wasn’t just on him - any suggestion of the sack is premature & insane. Just a week ago, his own changes helped open Millwall up. That’s football - and WBA are now on a 4-game winning streak and have only lost once under Corberan.
Their strength-in-depth belies their league position, and I feel that side is undergoing a hangover from the tactics/coaching/total lack of talent due to the human void of nothingness that is Steve Bruce stealing a living as a Head Coach.