Stuck In Second Gear

After a very convincing 5-0 victory in midweek over Tranmere, Sunderland faced a journey to Shropshire to take on Shrewsbury Town in the league. Phil Parkinson’s side really needed to get a win to gather some momentum and really start to rise up the league table after a relatively disappointing start to the campaign. However, after a very poor run away from home it was always going to be a struggle.

The recently appointed Sunderland manager made just one change from the side that was victorious on Tuesday night. Lynden Gooch missed out through injury but fortunately Aiden McGeady returned following his suspension. It was going to be interesting to see how this impacted the performance because many supporters have argued that Aiden McGeady doesn’t fit the set-up as he slows down the attack. This meant that Will Grigg continued in attack and with his goal in midweek, albeit a tap-in, there was no reason why he couldn’t start scoring the goals that we need to compete with the likes of Ipswich and Peterborough at the top of the table.

The hosts sat in a pretty modest mid-table position heading into the game so they would definitely be up for a fight. They lacked any real standout names on paper, with Jason Cummings being the only real obvious threat. However, they had were a team that set out with structure and every player had a role that they would stick with, which is much more difficult to play against than a couple of skilful players. Sam Ricketts’ side had a familiar face in the line up with Donald Love, a player who really didn’t hit the ground running on Wearside but has been praised for numerous impressive performances since signing for Shrewsbury.

The game commenced on a very dull day in Shropshire, with the travelling supporters hopeful that the performance would add some light. Aiden McGeady wasn’t far away from making an immediate impact after some very positive attacking build-up play. Chris Maguire and Denver Hume linked up superbly in attack before finding the Irishman, who could only fire his attempt over. Sunderland were dominant in terms of possession in the opening twenty minutes or so, but you can have all the possession in the world, it’s whether you make use of it that makes the difference.

Unfortunately, this dominance in possession didn’t mean anything as it was the hosts that struck first. Josh Laurent found an opening and fed the ball into Jason Cummings, who fired his shot beyond Lee Burge to give Shrewsbury a 1-0 lead. Even with another good spell in possession for Sunderland, it was Cummings who had the next effort yet again. Luckily, Lee Burge was able to push the 25-yard free kick away to safety and keep the visitors in the game, the man on loan from Nottingham Forrest was clearly the danger man. Chris Maguire went closest to providing an equaliser but his thunderous set-piece cannoned off the inside of the post, meaning that Sunderland were behind at the break. Overall, it was a half where we lacked quality and any real urgency when in possession. We weren’t creating enough clear-cut chances and things would need to change in the second half to even rescue a draw.

The lads stepped onto the field for the second half, with huge improvements needed in attack. A forced substitution saw Jon McLaughlin come onto the field, after Lee Burge picked up an injury. This is a huge shame because Burge was really getting into the swing of things, with some unbelievable saves in the last couple of games. It wasn’t long before Marc McNulty was introduced, which came with no surprise really considering how lethargic Sunderland had looked in possession to this point in the game. Shrewsbury were pinned into their own half, with more chances coming Sunderland’s way. Max O’Leary was able to push Luke O’Nien’s header against the post, as the chance of an equaliser looked increasingly unlikely. The last chance to level the scoring came Max Power’s way, unfortunately for him it clattered against the woodwork as Sunderland fell to a 1-0 defeat.

You can have the best players in the league but if they don’t perform consistently then promotion won’t be achievable. We keep putting ourselves in a good position to really gather momentum and win a few games, but something just wasn’t clicking for us in the final third. Shrewsbury were much more clinical than us in this game and as expected we have been punished for it. Phil Parkinson definitely needs to bring in at least one more attacker in January because we should be out scoring our opponents nine times out of ten regardless of what happens defensively. Next up, we face Oxford in the Carabao Cup, which is the least of our worries at this moment in time given our current league situation!