Lee Johnson reckons that Shrewsbury Town will offer us a stern test this afternoon and that we must be at our best to succeed. The only worrying thing is our best isn’t that great these days. He said: "I think this is a really tough game for us. Obviously Steve [Cotterill] has made changes, he knows the division - he's won the division with Bristol City very convincingly. You look at their squad and look at the names in their squad, they've got good players. They're on a good run - a solid run. Obviously Southampton would have been a difficult game for them both in terms of the standard but in terms of their first return like we had at Northampton after having a lot of people out with covid. I'm under no illusion that this game is a really good one to have and it's a really difficult one, hopefully, for both teams."
GETTING OFF TO A GOOD START IN GAMES
"The first goal is important, and we've talked about that statistically before, how it's around 70% of games are won by the team who scores the first goal. I think you've got to play the long game, as well. We can get emotional as a group because we're passionate about it, but at the same time our play between the boxes was very good the other day. In terms of the final third, we know we fell short in our composure and our final ball even though the movement was good. It was the movement that failed us in the early stages of our tenure, but here it was the delivery that failed us. You play that game 100 times and you probably win 80, draw ten and lose ten. What we've got to do is keep playing that numbers game in terms of the performance and keep chipping away at our mistakes and improve. So against Plymouth, we concede a really poor goal from a throw-in, at a time where it looked like there'd be only winner. We have to work on that, and every opportunity gives us a chance to learn. To be honest, I think we've had a poor start in the last two games. I look at our protocol a lot and for example, our wingers I thought were out of position. That's something we reviewed today. I think they were playing like 4-3-3 wingers, rather than 4-2-2-2 wingers. I think that was a bit of a risk, which is why I went for a bit more mobility in midfield. So that's one area where we could be a bit more solid."
WOULD LOVE THE FANS BACK
"I noticed after the Wimbledon game, the mood was a bit sombre which I wasn't expecting, and I wanted to get to the root of that. Was that pressure? There's no fans at the moment obviously and I think that's a real negative for us. I think if the fans get see how we want to play and get behind it, we can pen opposition teams in and that pressure can force bad decisions. That's something I'm really looking forward to, getting the fans to buy into it. I really think that's affected us in a negative way. I honestly think it's down to a lot of things. The Port Vale game was one where maybe you have that mental release, you can take a bit of an edge off the game [because of the competition] which enables the players to be a bit more relaxed and fluid, so that's something we have to create as much as possible. We have to enjoy it."
HIS OWN PROGRESS SO FAR AT SAFC
"I think we've hit peaks and troughs. After the Lincoln game you feel like you're 90% of the way there, and then you have the COVID outbreak which changes everything really, you lose that momentum and you lose that flow. That's not an excuse, because we still should have been good enough to win points in that time and we did win some. But I've got to say, I have enjoyed it and I think we should come out stronger. I want us to get to a point where we see our performance almost like a business, as every review has felt emotional. Actually, we need to see every failure as a chance to learn. Sometimes players are frightened to look at their own performance back, and that can only be history really, that's the bit I'm finding the most difficult to turn and tweak. I think that will take a bit of time to make that process more receptive and open. I think we should be able to lose a game of football and people still say, that is a Sunderland side. That's a side that has given it a go, has pressed from the front, tried to play forward, that's been all-action, won tackles. We've lost because of a mistake, a moment of brilliant, a refereeing decision etc but we've stuck to our principles and we've gone at it. I want that at U16, U18, U23s, first team. The best clubs around the world have that commitment."
PACE & POWER
"Pace is important Jack Diamond has brought that, to be fair Aiden O'Brien has been a real willing runner since he came back into the side, which is what we asked him to do. Those guys [mentioned] do have that dynamism though and any team needs speed, that ability to go past people where possible. We've had control, I think that's fair, but that doesn't win you football matches. I really do believe in what we're doing and I've really enjoyed the first spell, even though it's been up, down, topsy turvy for a number of reasons. We feel we probably don't have that emotional stability yet to settle based on the ownership issue and the January transfer window. Once we get through that I think the whole club will settle down a bit."
CARL WINCHESTER AND GRANT LEADBITTER
"If I look at them as a partnership, I thought they were part of being neat and tidy and that control we had. We could definitely have had more drive from midfield and I spoke to them about that. I think part of that was because as I've mentioned, the position of our wingers meant we were outnumbered 3v2 and stretched. Ideally in that shape you want to create 4v3 [in your favour] as much as possible. So removing any individual from it, our midfield could have driven us on a bit more, I remember Josh made a great run down the right, we ended up getting a corner but we could have more. We want that drive. Carl is coming into it, learning a new style and system, it will be a case of dipping in and out as he learns."