Heading into the Game
Heading into the fixture against Norwich City, Sunderland had lost three consecutive games and therefore this one felt like a ‘must-win’ for many fans despite the early point in the season. A good performance at Leicester during the week gave fans confidence, (Sunderland’s best performance of the season so far regardless of the result) and therefore players and manager alike wanted to bounce back to winning ways ahead of a November fixture list that looks appealing.
Mowbray made one change from the side that played at the King Power earlier in the week with the biggest surprise coming in his switch from Burstow to Ruysn up front in the Sunderland side. As readers may be aware I’m personally a huge fan of Ruysn’s attributes and was more shocked than anyone seeing his name on the team sheet as I made my way to the ground. Sunderland’s shape remained the regular 4-1-4-1 shape now that Ekwah has cemented himself as Sunderland’s main pivot as a holding midfielder with Jobe often making advanced runs in behind forming a 4-4-2 at times in possession.
David Wagner made several changes from his side that lost to Middlesborough during the week, the main ones being that of Hwang introduced for the danger man Adam Idah, and Fassnacht coming in for Fernandes on the right side of midfield. Norwich lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Wagner’s side looking to play out from the back.
How did the game unfold?
Sunderland started the game relatively well, aiming to hold possession and generate openings by building play up down the right with Hume/Roberts before quickly transitioning across to Clarke to drive at the Norwich defence.
As expected, Wagner’s side began the game by trying to play out from the back, something which initially looked like was going to lead to a fairly end-to-end affair. After a few quick pressing actions by Rusyn and Clarke however this quickly faded and Norwich surrendered possession and allowed Sunderland to get to work breaking down their low block.
In Typical Mowbray fashion, Sunderland decided to opt with their inverted fullback role which saw Trai Hume drift into a combination of both Right Centreback but also midfield, allowing O’Nien to spread into more of a fullback role whilst in possession.
By Pushing both of these players high up the pitch Sunderland were able to create room within the half-space quite effectively.
In doing so, both Neil and Jobe were able to receive the ball from Ekwah on the half-turn and spring Sunderland into the final third. In an all too common story this season, Sunderland dominated the early stages and didn’t allow Norwich a sniff in their half before falling behind against the run of play.
The aforementioned tactical change of pushing Huggins and O’Nien high and wide left Ekwah as the only form of protection in front of the defence, Norwich broke after gaining possession and saw a total lapse of concentration from Sunderland’s back four due to players being caught out of position.
Hume was recovering back into his native right-back position and therefore compromised Ballard’s attempt at an offside trap. Fisher was then able to break down the line, cut the ball back to Hwang who was able to dispatch it past Patterson with Norwich’s only real threat of the whole game.
Never Looking Concerned
Despite falling a goal behind, Mowbray nor the players looked concerned about the score line - yes, they were understandably remonstrating with the official about the linesman and his half up half down attempt at raising his flag, but they shook things off quickly knowing they had been the better side.
Tactically, Mowbray persisted with the shape he started the game with, however placed emphasis on both wingers releasing the ball when passes became available, keeping the ball moving and therefore the attack flowing. Instructions had clearly been made by Mowbray following the smothering by Justin and Pereira against the Foxes.
Fantastic Mr Clarke
Jack Clarke was simply phenomenal in this game - the young winger had the confidence of a seasoned professional and the ability of one to boot. From his tenacity to close down Norwich players that lead to the first & third goals, to his elegance of foot to glide past defenders at will. Clarke’s match data can be seen below, completing 8/12 dribbles and 5 chances in the process, with an xG of 0.96 to boot, the most of any Sunderland player.
This helps to further demonstrate how he’s leading the league for successful dribbles, closely followed by his teammate Patrick Roberts.
His assist for the second goal showcases not only his ability to progressive carry at an astounding level but also his ability to progressive pass into dangerous areas, let’s not take any shine away from Ruysn making a fantastic run to distract the defenders and Neil’s delicate finish. Clarke rounded off his MotM performance with a well-taken penalty after once again showcasing his close control.
Mowbray’s men have finally been given the reward to reflect the performances they’ve been putting in recently, now it’s time to regain some momentum with plenty of recovery time between games and an opportunity to really build some form heading into the Christmas period.