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Entering our second week with Mike Dodds temporarily at the helm, with speculation around the identity of our next boss heating up, we had the small matter of familiar foes Leeds United visiting the Stadium of Light for the first time since 2017.
Riding high in third - unbeaten in the league since October - the club Ian Porterfield, Jimmy Montgomery, Bob Stokoe, and co. dethroned in ‘73 were posing quite the challenge to our young side heading into Tuesday night’s clash.
With two free-flowing teams facing off, changes weren’t expected following Saturday’s win over West Brom, with Dodds anticipated to fancy the same side.
Yet, at the stroke of 7pm, our stand-in gaffer surprised us all with what was a sturdier, more conservative, and robust lineup than what we’ve become accustomed to in recent times.
Jenson Seelt came in for Pierre Ekwah to make up a back three alongside Dan Ballard and Luke O’Nien, with Jobe dropping in alongside Dan Neil. Alex Pritchard also made a return to the starting XI, replacing Adil Aouchiche.
With a more pragmatic approach, it was clear Dodds was setting his stall out to circumvent Leeds’ potency going forward, looking to catch the Lilywhites on the counter-attack with Jack Clarke, Abdoullah Ba, and Alex Pritchard.
With another solid attendance at a very wet Stadium of Light, as well as the notable presence of sky cameras, Leeds dominated the opening exchanges, yet, despite their early dominance, Daniel Farke’s side’s offensive efforts were balked by a workmanlike Sunderland backline who were impressively fastidious throughout the full ninety minutes.
After an initial settling period we began to make inroads of our own, with the likes of Pritchard, Clarke, and Jobe getting their foot on the ball, hitting Leeds on the counter. For once we looked a threat from set pieces, such was the additional height of Jenson Seelt, who almost made it count if it wasn’t for an outstanding save by Islan Meslier in the Leeds goal. The first-half was one of few chances, but end-to-end and deeply compelling nevertheless.
As the second-half kicked off with the unrelenting rain testing the groundsman’s credentials, Leeds started as they had begun the first, looking to find a way through our exceptionally organised defence.
Luckily these attempts were to no avail.
As the game wore on, and Leeds looked increasingly susceptible to a lapse in concentration, Mike Dodds’ gameplan bore fruit in the shape of Jobe.
After a quick-witted piece of play from Pritchard, he headed it forward, finding an unmarked Jobe - who couldn’t quite believe his luck, slotting the ball home.
For those watching on Sky, the concerning stat of “Most points won from losing positions” popped up, preparing us for what was to be an imminent Leeds barrage.
Fortunately thanks to our defensive display, tireless work rate off the ball, and the introduction of Pierre Ekwah - who came on and broke up play nicely - Leeds hardly got a sniff, with us claiming all three points.
This was an offering that demonstrated emphatically just how tactically versatile we really are. Asked to play a completely different system after 18 months of employing predominantly a 4-3-3 in just three days is remarkable, and certainly provides food for thought for the next manager, or who knows, maybe even Mike Dodds?
I don’t think any of us thought we’d be saying that after his two games in charge.
Special mentions to Jenson Seelt, who was largely exceptional at the back and an imposing presence at set-pieces, as well as Alex Pritchard, who has really staked a claim in the last few games he’s played in, and Jack Clarke, who, well, is Jack Clarke.