Can Lee Johnson and the Lads get this monkey off their backs?
The story so far…
The Lads continued their storming start to the season on Saturday with a hard fought 2-1 victory over Accrington Stanley.
Stanley arrived at the Stadium of Light level on points with the Lads but with a worse goal difference and having played one more game.
Nonetheless, that didn’t stop Accrington boss John Coleman from touting the fixture as a top of the table clash and dispensing the same old tired lines about Sunderland’s players, budget, stadium, fan base and any other obvious disparity between the two clubs.
Sunderland started well, playing some lovely passing football but were probably guilty of taking one too many touches at crucial junctures in the first half.
Stanley pressed well and in numbers, putting pressure on the Lads and forcing some mistakes and wayward passing.
The most frustrating aspect for red and white fans was how Stanley got numbers between the ball and goal to block any attempts to score.
It looked like the score was being written to the familiar tune of an afternoon where Sunderland failed to take their chances, but a young academy graduate would soon change things.
Enter Dan Neil, too good for the U23’s last season, but not quite polished enough to be a first team contender.
The young midfielder received the ball just outside the area to the left of Stanley’s goal following some good work from Dennis Cirkin.
Neil looked up, took a touch to shift the ball onto his weaker left foot and smashed a screamer into the top corner to open the scoring.
The lead didn’t last too long with Michael Nottingham finished smartly, heading in a corner after some loose defending from the home side which was punished to the dismay of the home support.
Sunderland had multiple chances to put the game to bed, Gooch, McGeady, Stewart and Embleton were all guilty of trying to take one too many touches when the ball needed struck first time.
On loan Manchester City keeper James Trafford was having an impressive game between the sticks for the visitors and was proving to be an effective last line of defence to keep Stanley in the game.
Winniesta broke the deadlock just before the hour mark.
Sunderland talisman Aiden McGeady carried the ball into the box and looked to be shaping up to shoot, drawing two defenders towards himself in the process.
The Republic of Ireland international instead dummied before passing the ball to Carl Winchester on the outside of the box who neatly fired into the far corner to put Sunderland back in the lead.
Stanley had their moments as Sunderland saw out the game but were unable to find an equaliser, ensuring that all 3 points deservedly went to the home side.
Former Black Cats manager Simon Grayson now finds himself in the hot seat on the West Coast and will be looking to build on his teams surprising drubbing of promotion hopefuls Rotherham.
The Cod Army put in a fantastic second half showing to beat Rotherham away from home.
Despite taking the lead through a 24th minute Callum Morton strike, Fleetwood found themselves 2-1 down at half time thanks to a goal from Michael Smith and a converted penalty from Kieran Sadlier.
Simon Grayson’s men soon recovered the lead during a frantic and free scoring 15 minute second half spell.
Ged Garner, Danny Andrew and Callum Camps all got on the score sheet. Andrew’s curling 20 yard free kick was the pick of the goals.
What could go down?
Highbury is one of the smallest pitches in the division and the home side like to use this to their advantage by restricting play as much as possible.
Grayson’s men try to get the ball up the pitch as quickly as possible using the minimum of passes.
They look to knock the ball beyond the defence for speedy and physical forwards Morton and Garner to go 1 on 1 with the goalkeeper.
They’ve used a number of formations this season but have gone with three at the back and a packed midfield to try and smother opponents in their last 2 games, scoring 4 goals using this formula.
We all know that Sunderland like a bit of tricky wing play, using the midfield passing and vision of Dan Neil to identify and exploit space.
Due to the narrow pitch, this could well be a struggle and we might see Sunderland players cutting inside and drifting towards the middle to try and open up the Fleetwood defence.
A high tempo and some one touch passing will be essential if we are to give our dangerous forwards room to operate and be successful in.
We may also see a slight change in personnel with Lee Johnson name dropping new signing Leon Dajaku in his pre-match press conference.
The only real selection headache the Sunderland gaffer has to deal with is Tom Flannagan’s 1 match suspension thanks to a particularly card happy referee last weekend.
Bailey Wright has been used to close out games this season, with the Australia international coming on to marshal a back three until the full time whistle and should be handed his first start of the season.
I expect Sunderland to win this one by a couple of goals. The squad is bursting with confidence and competition and for the first time in nearly half a decade appear to have found some dangerous consistency. Fleetwood could nick a goal from a set piece but I have a sneaking suspicion that big German Hoffman is only going to get better and better in goal. If Leon Dajaku gets to make his league debut, watch out for a young hungry player grabbing either an assist or goal using his pace and skill to undo the Fleetwood defence.
Fleetwood 1-3 Sunderland, Ha’way the Lads!
Big shout out goes to Arbenit Xhemajli who has returned to full training this week following a horrific injury while away with the Kosovo national side.
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