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Sunderland v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship

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Talking Points: What were the main takeaways from Sunderland’s epic performance v Leeds?

Malc smilingly chews over another three points against old foe Leeds and draws out a few of his thoughts on how we got the back-to-back wins over the Lilywhites, and fellow play-off contenders West Brom.

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

A bold team sheet supports tactical success

I was a weird mix of pleased and concerned about more significant changes being made by interim coach Mike Dodds in the starting 11 tonight, but looking back on the game, it certainly seemed to work.

Nobody could criticise Dodds for not trying new things since taking on the reins, however today his selection was to eventually play out. The lack of both personnel and tactical variation by his predecessor was, for me, among the frustrations that arguably started the rot that saw Mowbray’s eventual demise.

By bringing Seelt in for Ekwah, Ba infor Roberts and Pritchard starting ahead of Aouchiche, the caretaker demonstrated to me that he had a plan – and that was fantastic to see.

Persisting with Jobe (but not initially up front as per the weekend) gave us different skills and energy in different places. Ekwah coming on and switching with Jobe was another master stroke, which was a big factor in how our goal came about.

It could have been either glory or gory, and last time Dodds took the reins it was the latter. Thankfully not this time.

Well done Doddsy and the team. It was a bit of a gamble, but we backed ourselves, and the lads pulled it off.

Sunderland v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Organisation was massively better

We have played two decent teams now under the tutelage of Dodds and won them both, and it is immensely obvious to me that this interim head coach has very quickly got the team way more organised and able to both hold their shape as well as apply the plan they prepped for the opponent in front of us.

I suspected we may play with a back three with wing backs ahead of the start, and some of the RR lads disagreed, but we seemed to be more like that than anything else in the early stages.

Irrespective of the shape (which generally changes in and out of possession) over the past couple of games we have suddenly become a team who are well-drilled, strong in the challenge and scrapping for every ball wherever we are on the pitch.

At times in the recent past, it was only the likes of Trai Hume nipping at people's feet to nick the ball. Wind the clock forward to the reign of Doddsy, and the team are all it now, all the way from the full backs to the attacking midfielders.

Pulling this type of approach off against a team like Leeds is a huge achievement. By getting tight on teams like these, you risk being turned or bypassed, but we didn't let that happen very much at all tonight.

Our defence for set pieces has taken a clear step up too… my nerves for every type of set piece continued into this game, but time after time we cleared headers, blocked shots and scrambled the ball away from Patterson and the net in any way possible at times.

The tactical scrap across this match showed me the strategic thinking and prep for these games has taken a step up under this interim regime. Our organisation has been better, our application of the approach seems to be going pretty well, and in that, we are arguably in a much better position than when felt so stranded under Tony, stuttering and failing to find a way to get forward.

If the coach and the team can continue to build this structured and well organised unit, with solid tactics and alternate plans to use and react, we will be a country mile from where we were in the drab games against Plymouth, Huddersfield and Millwall.

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Patterson’s saves are worth their weight in gold

To put this great game into context, my heart was in my mouth in the first five minutes when Leeds shot out of the blocks and forced a great save from Patterson, when he was put at full stretch to tip the ball with his outside arm over the corner of the goal to maintain our sheet clean.

This isn’t the first time young Patto has kept us in it, and saves like that can only lift the team, allowing the defence to weather the storm, which we did by about the 20-25 minute point. The next 10-15 minutes after that were some of our best in the first half.

I have to wonder how many points this lad has saved us since becoming our starting number one. Yes, he may have put one or two balls straight into touch when trying to distribute from the back, but he also found a few really good long balls out, too, and didn't give the opponents too much easy possession. Even this aspect of his game is improving all the time.

If we compare the points Patterson has saved to how many mistakes he has made that led to goals, the latter has reduced more and more with his experience.

He is shaping up to be a great goalie for the future and is already a very, very good one right now.

Sunderland v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images

Return of the Pritch

After his performance in the Baggies win, I half expected Alex Pritchard to get more time on the pitch tonight, and I am over the moon with how he has grabbed his chance and run with it this evening.

The set-piece balls alone in the first half were enough for me to warrant Pritchard being in the starting 11. His corners caused havoc all the way through the game; his set piece work has got back close to its absolute best, as shown by his free kick for the Ballard goal against West Brom. He is back to his former habit of whipping in plenty of dangerous crosses and passes and was fantastic against Leeds.

In open play, he has also really stepped up to be back to his best for me. He is continuously looking for options whenever possible, and he has even got back to taking a shot once or twice. He hasn't resumed those free kicks he used to do, but he has made up for that in other ways, and that may well return in time.

His performance was man of the match for me against Leeds, closely followed by a virtually unplayable Jack Clarke.

I would not be surprised to see the likes of Aouchiche struggle to get the shirt back in the short term.

Millwall v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Dylan Hepworth/MB Media/Getty Images

Ba didn't really shine, but deserved his chance

I was happy to see Abdoullah Ba given a chance tonight, but one of the few negatives I felt as we made our way to this win was how wasteful Ba was at times, including quite a few occasions when we had very good chances only for him to cause them to break down.

While it is fair that Ba needs the minutes to learn, it was quite frustrating to find we had created multiple opportunities, but a couple of sloppy touches from the wide man caused it to come to nothing.

Given the way Roberts has played in the recent past, Dodds was justified in making the change, and if the plan was for Ba to tire Leeds out and then throw Roberts on to create havoc, that worked to an extent.

I would like to see Ba get another start in Bristol, so he can get past some of his errors and build his confidence. There is a good player in there, and he will only improve with game time, support from his senior pro mates, and the great coaching we are starting to see from Dodds.

A great night that I am sure Ba will learn a lot from. His time will come, too.

Millwall v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Dylan Hepworth/MB Media/Getty Images

Final thoughts

That was a massive performance from the interim coach and from the team.

If anyone was to suggest we could get all six points against Leeds and West Brom after what we saw a couple of weeks ago I would have laughed down my sleeve at them.

We were way the better team in both games, and the tactical and structural changes made so swiftly and effectively have to give Dodds a sniff at the role longer term,

Let’s have more of this on the road to Bristol at the weekend. We are back, and we are rolling.

Sunderland v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images


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