League Football returned for Sunderland after a very disappointing spell in the cups. Last match Sunderland were defeated in a first-round replay against Gillingham in the FA Cup. Prior to this, Phil Parkinson’s side were thumped 3-0 by Scunthorpe in the Football League Trophy and lost 2-1 to the Leicester U21’s in the same competition. Obviously, this is not good for team morale because losing 3 matches on the bounce is never good for confidence. However, it could be a blessing in disguise as we can now focus completely on the league, which is the main priority at the end of the day.
Sunderland hosted Coventry, a fixture that didn’t lack goals last season with a nine-goal thriller as Coventry came away 5-4 winners. We would need to be in top gear to get anything from this game too as Mark Robins’ side sat in a very convincing third position heading into the match. They had a well worked system with plenty of pace and options going forward, quite the opposite to what we have at this moment in time. They seemed to alternate between a 3-5-2 and a 5-3-2 depending on whether they were in possession or not. When in possession of the ball their two wing-backs, Brandon Mason and Fankaty Dabo, advanced into midfield to support the attack but when Sunderland had the ball, they dropped back to defend.
There was a slight adjustment in tactics from Phil Parkinson, which didn’t come as a surprise given our recent form. Will Grigg started in attack on his own yet again but this time in a 4-3-3 formation, with Chris Maguire and Aiden McGeady on the flanks. George Dobson, Grant Leadbitter and Max Power completed the midfield trio. The back four consisted of Denver Hume, Joel Lynch, Jordan Willis and Luke O’Nien with Lee Burge between the sticks. Until the January window, it will be extremely difficult for Phil Parkinson to really put his stamp on this squad as he is probably managing players that aren’t in his plans for the foreseeable future.
With the red and white army in position, the game was ready to commence. The first real attempt of the game came from the Sky Blues’ with an optimistic shot from distance being tipped over the bar by their forming shot stopper, Lee Burge. The visitors were gifted another opportunity when Chris Maguire failed to make enough contact with his back pass, allowing Bakayoko to steal possession in the box. Luckily for us, Lee Burge did just enough to put the striker off and make a vital save and keep the score level at 0-0. Unfortunately, it was the resulting corner that produced the opening goal. A succession of headers in the Sunderland penalty area created an opening of space for Dominic Hyam to dart into the danger zone and nod Coventry ahead, 1-0. The half time whistle blew with an echo of boos to summarise that first forty-five from a Sunderland perspective. There was no urgency or desire and when we did reach the final third there was a real lack of pace. It was the usual “hit and hope” approach, which just highlights the lack of quality in our line up.
The lads’ returned to the field for the second half, with drastic improvements needed to give Coventry a run for their money. Both sides struggled to settle and it wasn’t long before Duncan Watmore was welcomed to the pitch to add some much needed pace. There were penalty claims from Sunderland as a corner appeared to strike the hand of Liam Kelly but the referee wasn’t convinced and waved these appeals away imminently. The chances were finally starting to come but the decision making was extremely poor when it mattered. George Dobson ventured forward, with Duncan Watmore making a promising run alongside him. The midfielder opted for a shot instead, a prime example of our problems going forward. Sunderland were eventually saved by Benjamin Kimpioka in the dying embers of the game. The ball bobbled awkwardly in the penalty area before finding the substitute, who calmly slipped the ball into the back of the net from close range, 1-1. It was virtually an immediate impact from the substitute and he could be in for many more first team opportunities if he can continue to prove himself.
Overall, it was a very uninspiring performance from us and it is clear to see why we are struggling in a mid table position. It’s going to be a very busy January transfer window if we are to battle for a play-off place, with at least three signings needed in my opinion. The midfield three don’t seem to have the ability to run with the ball and play dangerous passes, with all three just “doing the basics well.” This will have to change on Tuesday night when we face Burton Albion in another home fixture and yet another “must win” match in League One.