Sunderland lined up in a 4-4-2, reverting away from the 3-4-2-1 previously used at Reading and Middlesbrough.
No Forwards? No Problem
The concern for many Sunderland fans after Middlesbrough was how the team would play in the absence of talisman Ross Stewart. When Ellis Simms limped off after 37 minutes against Reading, it appeared luck had conspired against us again.
I decided to analyse the Reading and Watford matches, when we had no recognised forward. I can see why Tony Mowbray changed the defensive structure with four defenders moving to a traditional four defenders, rather than five which we’ve used so far this season.
In possession, Sunderland almost had four forwards, like a 4-2-4, with Roberts and Clarke pushing up to wide forwards. We mightn’t have any available forwards, but with Diallo and Bennette on the bench, Sunderland aren’t lacking options out wide.
Alese - who played at left centre back against Reading - got moved to left back against Watford. Alese moves perfectly into where Clarke was against Reading, and gives Clarke more attacking duties.
xG and Shots
On paper, this game got the result it deserved with a draw. What is worth noting is Watford when you examine their stats, didn’t actually create much in the game. Keinan Davis, who scored the first goal, produced 0.52 xG which accounted for 47% of their Expected Goals tally. Sunderland generated high xG from the opening goal, but these are from two shots from Jack Clarke and then Ajibola Alese.
Sunderland had less shots than Watford, but more on target. We created higher quality chances in the last fifteen minutes after creating very little for most of the second half. Watford will likely blame themselves as they sat deeper and allowed Sunderland more of the ball at 2-1. Watford retained 61% possession until they went 2-1 up when Sunderland had 56% of the ball for the rest of the match.
My stand-out performer was Ajibola Alese, who stepped up in the absence of Dennis Cirkin.
Our first glance of Alese was in the 2-0 defeat v Sheffield Wednesday and I didn’t feel he did very well - but, Tony Mowbray and the coaching staff have managed to settle him in and Alese starred at left back at the weekend.
With Dennis Cirkin expected back for October 1st against Preston, the Sunderland gaffer now faces a selection headache.
Assessment after 10 games
I’m delighted we are sitting on 15 points from 10 games. We have played 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 14th, 22nd and 24th in the Championship. I actually believe 15 points is selling Sunderland a bit short.
I will assume this team will improve as the season goes on, considering the young age of the squad and new faces that need time to get up to speed. Add in that Tony Mowbray has spent a few weeks at the club, and I wouldn’t discount Sunderland for playoffs.
All the data trends favourably for us too, with our underlying numbers giving Sunderland a fringe playoff position right now. We could do with managing games better, but this team is head and shoulders above the Sunderland side that was playing in League One a year ago - we’ve come on so much in such a short space of time.