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Sunderland v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship

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Sunderland show their tactical versatility with two massive wins!

The Lads have played two different styles in two different games but with the same reward, and Finlay Anderson explains why the foundations are in place for the next head coach.

Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

During Tony Mowbray’s final interview as Sunderland head coach, one message was clear.

In that particular moment, there was an imbalance between the development of players and winning matches, and as Mowbray seemed to hint, it was restricting the progress we were making on the pitch.

Mowbray had his way of playing and it was clear as day: dominate games with a high tempo and play some attractive football along the way.

Sunderland vs Huddersfield Town Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

At times, as he revealed after our draw at The Den, the ‘model’ meant that progress was limited and there was little room to change personnel.

It’s not really my decision, the club wants to develop young players, and for them to be given an opportunity. That’s what I do, I give them a chance.

For Sunderland in 2023, the ‘model’ is everything and as a head coach, it’s the blueprint that has to be followed. However, on Tuesday night, Sunderland played exactly how the game and the situation needed them to.

With Leeds’ boisterous attacking power, it was clear that the plan was to limit the amount of space and time they had on the ball, and to play on the counter attack.

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

With Crycensio Summerville and Dan James on either side and Joel Piroe and Georginio Rutter playing near one another, it was a task that seemed arduous, especially as Daniel Farke’s side had only failed to score on four occasions during their opening twenty league games.

However, as the full time whistle blew after a tactical masterplan from Mike Dodds, we’d collected a massive three points, meaning that his two matches against two fellow promotion hopefuls had brought about a perfect return.

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

Against Albion on Saturday, there were suggestions that it was a Mowbray-style performance with some tweaks implemented by Dodds, and it was hard to argue with that analysis.

In the second half, a high tempo with some fluid attacking football was the key that unlocked the Baggies as we registered a big win.

On Tuesday night however, there was little doubt as to whose handbook this came from. During their post-match interviews with Sky Sports, both Luke O’Nien and Jobe dedicated the win to Dodds and once again, it was difficult to argue against it.

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

Pre-match, it might’ve felt bizarre and unlike Sunderland, but the change of style and tactics to a back five with Alex Pritchard leading the line and dictating the game were masterstrokes.

Pritchard was close to a move away from Wearside in the summer and had the club hierarchy had their way, he would’ve been playing elsewhere this season, but in the last two games, he’s proven just how influential he can be.

And so, it all leads back to Mowbray’s argument.

On nights like this, Sunderland needed their experienced heads and Pritchard, Luke O’Nien and to some extent Dan Neil all played a role to immense effect.

Sunderland v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

At times, the style of play needs to take a back seat to the end goal of winning, but more often than not, the Sunderland that Mowbray shaped during his time here will be more than good enough, and so it leaves the head coach’s position as a role that someone can take on and thrive in.

Whether that’s Will Still, Julien Sablé or even Dodds, the foundations are there and throughout our last two matches, this side has proven that they can adapt to any style.

Six points from our last two games has also hauled us back into the playoff positions heading into the second half of the campaign, and the door is wide open for whoever comes in next.


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