Sunderland travelled down to Wales in search of consecutive wins following their recent dip in form, with Mowbray selecting an unchanged side from the XI that ran out victorious to Norwich last week. Despite an early bath for Swansea’s Charlie Patino, Sunderland were held to a frustrating goalless draw and will wonder how they couldn’t get the ball in the net. We’ll take a look at Mowbray’s game plan and ask why they were unable to force a breakthrough against the Swans.
Mowbray named an unchanged side from the week before, with Rusyn maintaining his place and Cirkin not being risked until he’s fully recovered from his previous niggle. The typical 4-1-4-1 formation was used, this did however change to a 3-4-3 in the second half following Patino’s dismissal.
Michael Duff also named an unchanged side from the team that emerged victorious against Blackburn in the prior game week, Swansea’s regular shape was that of a 4-2-3-1 with familiar face Jamal Lowe and Cullen the main danger men out wide for Duff’s side. Following the dismissal of Patino, Duff changed his shape to a compact 4-5-0 which later became a 5-4-0 as the match wore on. Swansea are a team known to retain possession and therefore Sunderland were expecting to play on the counter more, something which has become accustomed to Mowbray’s impressive away record in Red & White.
Despite the initial thought that Sunderland would be happy to sit and absorb pressure, they immediately brought the game to Swansea, pressing high and looking to turn the ball over in dangerous areas and spring Ruysn through a relatively high Swansea back line. Quick interchanges of play saw early opportunities for both Rusyn and Neil, the former probably most annoyed he wasn’t able to convert after slipping as he struck the ball.
Sunderland asserted dominance early in the game and in some ways left Swansea shell-shocked. Ekwah & Neil were both able to find Jobe in the half-space with ease and split the Swansea lines. Intelligent advanced runs from Sunderland’s wide men created space for Jobe to occupy and by the 20-minute mark, Sunderland had already flashed numerous balls across the 18-yard box and seemingly just required the finishing touch to make the game 1-0.
The early levels of sustained pressure saw Charlie Patino pick up an early yellow card within the first 10 minutes and then before the half hour, Sunderland played out of a press with a quick interchange of passes and Pierre Ekwah was brought down again by Patino and the Arsenal loanee saw red for a second bookable offence.
Mowbray’s ‘Box’ Midfield
Prior to the sending off, Sunderland had found countless spaces in between the Swansea lines due to their execution of the previously mentioned inverted fullback role of Trai Hume. By pushing into Midfield, Hume was able to form an effective ‘box’ with Ballard, O’Nien & Ekwah. In Doing so, the four could continuously exchange passes to retain possession and allowed Neil & Jobe to pick up the half-spaces and receive the ball on the half turn.
Second Half Slackness
After ending the first half with a lucky escape following a Patterson Penalty save, Sunderland gave Swansea time and space to start the second half which allowed them settle into the game. This was ultimately the biggest tactical mistake from Mowbray as Duff’s side were able to make themselves compact and shut Sunderland out.
By dropping into a low-block, Swansea were able to camp themselves on the edge of their own box and crowded out the space that the Sunderland midfielders had exploited so well in the first half. With Swansea now sitting so deep, Rusyn’s ability to run in behind was totally nullified and Mowbray was forced into a change by bringing on Hemir to act as a more direct Aerial threat.
Roberts & Clarke were given total freedom on the touchline, however as soon as either were able to skip inside they were quickly surrounded by bodies and smothered, forcing play to break up and slow the pace of the game even further. This can be further supported by both Roberts & Clarke only completing 6/10 dribbles between them, a figure that each normally hit independently from one another on a regular game week.
Pritchard (16/18), Dack (12/12) & Ba (12/12) were all introduced to try and link play up within the Sunderland front line, completing a combined 40/42 passes in the process however other than a deflected Ballard header, Sunderland were limited to speculative shots from distance.
Ba managed to cannon an effort off the Bar late in the game but other than that, truth be told the resilient Swansea low-block was simply too compact for Sunderland to penetrate.
As a team that thrives on being able to exploit space in between opposition lines but also play attacking and direct football, this young Sunderland side simply once again struggled to break Swansea down on the day.
This season we’ve seen a young side become more accomplished against sides who sit in a low-block at the Stadium of Light, however when playing 10 v 11 it can often be even more difficult for sides to break down.
A frustrating day at the office, given at 30 minutes the 3-points looked all but guaranteed. Nevertheless, the lads are back at home to face Birmingham and hope to make it back to back home wins to keep the momentum going into the international break.