Xisco Muñoz lined up with a 3-4-3 formation similar to the shape used in his previous matches, the game-plan very much with an attempt to surrender possession and hit Sunderland on the counter, the loss of Barry Bannan in midfield was a big blow for the hosts as he acts as the main creative force when in possession for Wednesday.
Mowbray looked to make it 4 wins out of 5 and bounce back following the weekend defeat to Cardiff City making one change as Patrick Roberts made way for Abdoullah Ba following his extended stint within the side. Sunderland stuck to their tried and tested 4-1-4-1 formation that they’ve adopted in the absence of Pierre Ekwah from his holding midfield birth.
Truth be told, this fixture was more a good example of Mowbray setting his side out to be ruthless prior to kick off and didn’t require much of a deviation as the night went on. With Sunderland conceivably out of sight within 31 minutes, Sheffield Wednesday offered no real threat to the Wearsiders until Patterson was called into action in the closing stages.
As so often away from home, Mowbray would be relying on his youthful forward line to break on the counter and use their fluid movement to exploit space in behind, something which brought fantastic success on the road last season and has played a pivotal role in the reason why Jack Clarke is currently the league's top scorer with seven goals in nine games for Sunderland this season.
Sunderland’s first goal of the evening came from an unlikely source in Dan Ballard. We earned a corner from early sustained pressure and Alex Pritchard, when able to beat the first man, put in a delightful ball that Ballard was able to power home. The centre back finding now himself on the scoresheet twice in the last three games set the tone in the early minutes as Sunderland looked to hammer home the pre-existing misery looming over Hillsborough.
Mowbray insisted on both wide-men hugging the touchlines and generating as much width as possible, something we’ve come to see as a regular occurrence away from home as this provides quick out-balls to spring away in swift transition - this can be demonstrated by looking at the passing maps of both wingers found down below.
Sunderland’s Star Man
Undoubtedly, however, there was one man who stole the show and that was Sunderland’s unplayable winger Jack Clarke. The winger has been in a rich vein of form this season and added the much-needed end product that he was sometimes guilty of missing at times last season. Sunderland’s second goal game quickly after, with a long diagonal exploiting the space found behind Valentin and Clarke latching on, cutting inside and dispatching a lovely finish into the bottom corner to double the lead.
Clarke’s dribbling numbers this season have been nothing short of outstanding, with only 5 other players in Europe’s top 5 leagues averaging more progressive carries per 90’ this season, he’s terrifying defenders with his silky control and being clinical with his strikes at goal.
As can be seen below, his ability to isolate defenders and draw second-man pressing is second to none and something Sunderland fans should be happy to appreciate whilst we still can.
Clarke then added to his tally on the 31st minute following another quick counter and delightful touch by Mason Burtstow to draw a penalty that Clarke coolly dispatched to kill the game off and send Sunderland into half time with a commanding lead.
The Castlereagh Cancelo
Trai Hume was up to his normal antics of being deployed into his now natural inverted fullback role. He was able to drift into midfield and open up more space for Roberts whilst also providing additional cover to Dan Neil who was operating as the sole holding midfielder for Sunderland on the night.
Due to his rather unorthodox role, Sunderland are able to dominate possession away from home and allowed them to shut the door on Wednesday before they could even attempt to salvage something from the game. His 58/66 completed passes were mainly done within the midfield area and showcase that Hume can be used in more ways than just a traditional fullback role when required.
All in all, Friday night was a completely comfortable and dominant performance by Sunderland, something which in previous years would’ve been the ample opportunity to slip up. Being able to bounce back from defeat is something that Mowbray’s men have become masters at, age and newfound experience of such a youthful side playing large roles in this.
I was personally the most worried about this game out of all we’ve played this season and therefore was relieved to see the side dispatch Wednesday with such ease, something which is a welcome sight to many and points to all the characteristics of a side looking to cement a place within the top 6 this season.
Sunderland now look to capitalise on this with Watford and Middlesbrough being quick home games in succession, hopefully providing Mowbray’s men with 9 points in 8 days heading into the next international break.