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Ha'way the Draw – Sunderland Home Preview
Written by portmantales on Wednesday, 7th Aug 2019 12:17

Saturday sees Jack Ross finally enter the Portman Road dugout; some would argue 12 months too late. After a successful siege of Burton, today we delve into the fortunes of a Sunderland team that played 61 games in their last campaign and came away empty handed.

Last Season

Ipswich will do well to heed the warning of Sunderland fans. League One requires wins to achieve promotion and simply being hard to beat will not be enough.

The Black Cats only lost five league games throughout their 2018/19 campaign (one fewer than eventual champions Luton) however a phenomenal 19 draws hindered their progression, falling to fifth place and crashing out of the play-offs at the final hurdle through defeat to Charlton.

This was their second loss at Wembley within the calendar year after a near-successful Checkatrade Trophy campaign ended in disappointment through extra time heartbreak against Portsmouth.

Sunderland fans have been slowly losing patience with manager Jack Ross, the Scotsman failing to utilise the division’s biggest budget to replicate the attack-at-all-costs mantra that saw his St Mirren side promoted and stock rise so rapidly with both Ipswich and Sunderland courting his services in the summer of 2018.

Season So Far

The Mackems' campaign opened in familiar fashion - a 1-1 draw with Oxford United. Sunderland were slow out of the blocks and fell behind before the interval.

After the break the resurgent Black Cats side won an early penalty which Lynden Gooch scored to level. Despite a second half of constant Sunderland pressure and possession, the winning goal did not arrive and the spoils were shared.

A smatter of boos rung round the Stadium of Light at both half-time and full-time as expectation from supporters continues to exceed the performance of those in red and white, not helped by owner Stewart Donald’s pre-season claim that 100 points will be achieved this season. Maybe having a silent owner does have its benefits!

Despite recording 34 crosses in the game only three shots in total were made by the Mackems and a struggle to score from open play has become a regular frustration.

Disappointment at once again failing to convert a draw into a win has been exacerbated by the challenging nature of Sunderland’s opening fixtures with games against ourselves and fellow promotion rivals Portsmouth coming up.

System

Sunderland have changed their approach and adopted a 3-5-2 formation and this system heavily relies on wing-backs.

It is a curious decision for Ross to set out his team in this manner when the balance of the squad would lend itself better to a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. The key being that 3-5-2 would position Aiden McGeady at wing-back, which is far less effective than his preferred attacking winger role.

The departure of Bryan Oviedo in the summer has also left the squad without any specialist wing-backs. Lyndon Gooch (also a winger by trade) filled one of the roles against Oxford and struggled with the balance between defensive and attacking requirements. It will be intriguing to see if Ross maintains this formation for the long term.

In goal ex-Burton stopper Jon McLaughlin is as good a goalkeeper as you will find at this level and will certainly earn more points for Sunderland than he loses this season and I would not expect any change from him this weekend. Both commanding of his area and dominating on crosses, McLaughlin has flourished since joining from Hearts.

The three centre-backs against Oxford were Jordan Willis, Tom Flanagan and Conor McLaughlin with the latter’s mistake responsible for Oxford’s opener.

The trio are still gelling with Flanagan far from comfortable with Ross’s build from the back style. Both teams view defence as their weakest elements going into Saturday’s clash. Former Posh captain Jack Baldwin, Alim Ozturk and McGoldrick testicle chomper Glenn Loovens are the alternatives.

Wing-backs are a difficult position in the modern game, lauded for being the fittest position on the pitch, it requires the player to be able to bomb up and down continuously whilst finding the balance of attacking and defending.

This is even more of a challenge when you are new to the first team and not playing in your established position. This is what proved a struggle for 20-year-old left back Denver Hume against Oxford. With only 10 appearances in the first team, Denver was asked to play wing-back and this horribly exposed his inability to cross whilst not allowing him time to settle in defensive positions to show his main strengths - certainly one for Danny Rowe to target on Saturday.

The other wing-back position was filled by winger Gooch, an effective attacking force however again struggles with the defensive elements of the position and does give away cheap fouls.

The core of the midfield was composed of George Dobson, Dylan McGeouch and Elliot Embleton. McGeouch is the standout player in this unit. The former Celtic and Hibs player is solid yet unspectacular in his play. He effectively breaks-up opposition attacks and distributes the ball to Embleton and Dobson.

Embleton is a Sunderland youth product and the hope is that this will be his breakthrough season. Viewed as a creative force, Embleton will be one for Cole Skuse and Flynn Downes to target early on to overwhelm the young man, diminishing his influence on proceedings. It is an extremely inexperienced midfield and I would expect Grant Leadbitter to replace Dobson on Saturday due to the magnitude of the game.

Up front both Marc McNulty and Will Grigg are more than capable of scoring goals at this level if given the service, the former being the hardest working of the front pairing whilst Grigg relies on balls to feet, not a player who will often create his own efforts.

Grigg has struggled to have the desired impact since his £4 million move in January and has only scored four goals, as yet failing to catch fire sufficiently to terrify defences.

Charlie Wyke was the main striker last season and is a more traditional number nine. Big, strong and able to occupy defenders, his goal return was poor last season, however, and McNulty has been brought in to increase the potency of Sunderland’s attack.

Sunderland certainly have the squad to push for automatic promotion however their current choice of system is, at least on paper, baffling and if this system is used against Ipswich then I can see plenty of opportunities for Alan Judge, Rowe, Luke Garbutt and Downes to flourish. However, Ross may adopt for a defensive shape in this game, switch to a 4-5-1 with Grigg alone up front.

One to Watch

Aiden McGeady. A tricky winger versus Janoi Donacian or Myles Kenlock will always be cause for concern and McGeady certainly has the experience and nous to create severe problems for both.

On his last visit to Portman Road he scored an absolute peach of a consolation strike when Ipswich showed, debatably, their most fluent footballing performance of Mick McCarthy’s tenure in a 5-2 win.

At 33, McGeady may not possess the pace that he once had but his ability to threaten from both the touchline and cutting inside on either foot will always keep a defender on their heels.

The Irish international experienced the hottest goalscoring season of his career in 2018/19 with 11 goals in 30 starts and was named Sunderland Player of The Year.

The winger began proceedings on the bench versus Oxford, however this was due to fitness concerns. With their failure to win and another week of training in the legs I expect McGeady to start at the weekend, it remains to be seen in what role.

Former Town

Grant Leadbitter. The master of hitting the first man from a corner and ex-Ipswich skipper Leadbitter returned to the Stadium of Light after a 10-year absence in 2019.

Following George Honeyman’s departure to Hull in the summer, Leadbitter has been named captain for the 2019/20 season – however this honour did not guarantee a starting place and he was an unused substitute in last Saturday’s game.

If Ross continues his pragmatism going into games, then I expect Leadbitter to start against Ipswich in an attempt to dominate our midfield and provide a solid passing base to work from.

As we all know, Leadbitter’s passing is normally more of a sideways nature – feeding the more creative members of the team. This may clash with the playing style of McGeouch, leaving only Embleton as the creative spark to feed the front pair.

Prediction

The combination of a bumper crowd, unsettled Sunderland and a James Norwood home debut greatly increases my positivity going into a game in which a win would be an early sign of promotion intent. 2-0 to Ipswich for me, Rowe to open his Town account in the first half before Norwood tucks away a late penalty to secure the three points.

I would like to wish all Sunderland fans a safe trip down to Portman Road, you are always a great bunch to speak with and certainly travel in good numbers!

Follow me on Twitter via @PortmanTales

Note: For the purposes of the home game previews I have removed the Travel Tips section, if this would prove useful to any Ipswich (or even away fans) then please let me know in the comments and I will add to future segments.




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Weekender added 12:29 - Aug 7
Excellent preview PortmanTales
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TRUE_BLUE123 added 13:00 - Aug 7
Top Work mate

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OsborneOneNil added 14:38 - Aug 7
Cracking. 2-0 with Rowe and Norwood scoring would be perfect.
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armyofblueandwhite added 06:51 - Aug 8
This is a great read! COYB 2.1
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jabberjackson added 07:29 - Aug 8
Insightful précis
Good work Portmantales

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ElephantintheRoom added 08:04 - Aug 9
Maybe you should include a weather section in future blogs - as this promises to make the mackem's journey a tad bracing - and will probably destroy the game as a spectacle. Sunderland are really a poor man's Newcastle, they've been pretty useless in everyone's living memory and Ross has a thankless task given the ludicrous over-expectation and large collection of overpaid rubbish he inherited. Personally I think he did pretty well last season given the hand he was dealt. But he will probably be gone by xmas unless he can magic an effective team from the dross. Tempting to highlught this as a season-defining game for both teams and managers. Whihc of course it won't be.
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Mullet added 17:37 - Aug 9
The image of loovens chomping on didsy’s nuts make anyone else reread that paragraph?
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SpiritOfJohn added 08:37 - Aug 10
Good pre-match read. Accurate description of Leadbitter's corners, but he did use to be strong in the tackle and could be an interesting battle with Downes today. Similar style of play to Skuse in some ways but not afraid to shoot and scores more goals.
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