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Sunderland v Reading - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light

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Talking Tactics: Risks in possession pay off for Sunderland against an organised Reading

RR’s resident analyst Coel Young is back to dissect Sunderland’s frustrating-yet-rewarding performance against time-wasters Reading. What was Mowbray’s gameplan, and how did we execute it?

Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images


First Half

In general the first half was a very uneventful half, with lots of breaks in play and countless unforced errors in possession.

However, Reading did organise themselves offensively to deal with our shape and rotations down the right especially.

As has been a feature in recent matches, Hume, Roberts and Amad looked to quickly rotate, with one always dropping, one providing width, and one higher between the lines. Reading however dealt with these rotations very well in their 5-3-2, passing players on and congesting the spaces between the lines and out wide. Hendrick often stepped out to the ball, whilst the Mbengue (LCB) and Baba (LWB) stepped up to prevent us receiving with space and time.

Hume, Amad and Roberts all rotate: Baba jumps out and Hendricks and Mbengue ready to engage
One of the rare occasions we were able to find Amad between the lines when Hendricks stepped out

Similarly, on Reading’s right, it was the same story and even easier to control. Michut does not offer the same presence between the lines as Amad, therefore it was easier for Reading to slide across, engage Clark tightly and also step out to Gelhardt if he drifted over to support.

Michut more reserved in positioning, easier to control

The proportion of touches for our front four in deeper areas shows how effective Reading were in executing their game plan in the first half.

In addition, on transition they caught us out of balance when we were too aggressive in committing men forwards.

Second half changes

We made some in possession tweaks in the second half that enabled us to start to have success in breaking down Reading’s shape.

We played with far more risk in the second half, heavily overloading our right with Gelhardt dropping over to that side, in addition to Hume playing the entire half from a narrow position between the Reading lines.

Big overload on right to create gaps in Reading backline- Hume looks to exploit

With Gelhardt drifting over to the right, Alese pushed on to the point he was almost exclusively playing as an inside forward on the left.

The amount of numbers we committed forward pinned Reading back, and their lack of threat on transition meant they massively lacked an easy release from pressure. Our defenders and Michut also did a good job recycling the ball to constantly shift Reading side to side, in addition to hitting diagonals to isolate Clarke and Roberts against their wing-backs.

In the build-up to the winning goal itself, the effectiveness of Hume playing in an inside position within Reading’s shape could be seen, combining with Roberts twice to get him in down the sides.


It wasn’t a particularly exciting game to watch due to Reading’s almost well executed game plan. They didn’t commit forwards, stayed organised and slowed the game down on throw-ins etc.

However, what was particularly impressive about our performance was the risks we took in possession to win the match. Gelhardt being relatively isolated against Reading’s back three was addressed second half with Alese almost playing like another striker, and similarly Hume’s positioning between the lines ultimately led to our winning goal.

These tweaks from Mowbray will definitely be necessary for the rest of the campaign in the absence of a proper striker.


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