Cats Eye View: Question marks over Sam Allardyce's Sunderland substitutes in Leicester City defeat
With the clock ticking towards the 66th minute mark, Sunderland's coaching staff were deep in conversation.
Sam Allardyce, assistant manager Paul Bracewell and first-team coach Robbie Stockdale were huddled on the edge of their technical area.
The topic of conversation was probably along the lines of ‘do we stick or twist?’
Their players had impressed in the opening hour at the Stadium of Light, soaking up the early pressure from league leaders Leicester City before growing into the game.
Chances came and went for both sides but there was nothing to separate the Black Cats and the Foxes as the game reached the midway stage of the second-half.
The opening 45 minutes had been so breathless though that a number of Sunderland’s players seemed to be tiring.
A change was needed. Up to that point Sunderland had impressed and they were very much in the game.
Younes Kaboul and Lamine Kone were doing their best to keep Jamie Vardy quiet, while man of the match Jan Kirchhoff was mopping up every loose ball.
Playing three holding midfielders had worked reasonably well, with Sunderland dogged, compact and working well as a unit.
Fresh legs were needed though as Sunderland needed better ball retention. Too many of Lee Cattermole, Yann M’Vila and Kirchhoff’s passes were going astray.
But in the blink of an eye, Leicester had taken the lead through Vardy. It had to be him.
Danny Drinkwater’s superb long-range pass through the middle took out the Sunderland defence and left the rapid Vardy with a one on one with Kaboul.
Vardy blasted past the Frenchman, took a touch, before firing coolly past Vito Mannone.
The Italian should have raced off his line with Vardy bearing down on him.
From a relatively strong position, the game had been taken away from Sunderland.
And they never recovered. Sunderland had waited too long to make a change.
Two minutes after Vardy had put Leicester in front, Allardyce made his first changes but the damage had been done.
There were pockets of boos from supporters when M’Vila was withdrawn, along with Wahbi Khazri, in favour of Jack Rodwell and Dame N’Doye.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but neither made a positive impact.
The subs were too late and the wrong ones. For all Allardyce’s good work since taking charge, his substitutions remain a major bone of contention with supporters.
N’Doye seems to be in favour but he offered little when he came on, while Rodwell missed a glorious chance late on to rescue what could have been a vital point.
Sub Seb Larsson has only played 14 first team minutes since his return from injury.
And the Swedish international didn’t get a look in again, while Jeremain Lens was the third and final sub entering the fray after 76 minutes.
By then, the rhythm and competitiveness to Sunderland’s first half game had completely disappeared. Leicester controlled proceedings once they went in front.
The final half hour was as bad as anything served up since Allardyce took charge. More misplaced passes, poor finishing, a lack of cutting edge, poor decision making.
Sunderland had been rattled.
Post-match a glum Allardyce criticised his side’s reaction to going behind.
But in hindsight and on reflection, Big Sam would probably have made his subs 10 minutes earlier, when Sunderland were very much still in the game.
In the end, all he could do was watch as Sunderland were punished on the counter-attack by a Leicester side who may not play the most attractive football but they are consistent, effective and clinical.
Five straight wins and clean sheets proves it. How Sunderland could do with a dose of the Foxes magic.
Sunderland won’t have much choice at Norwich but to twist. Defeat is unthinkable, a point suits the Canaries more; for Sunderland a win is a must.
With Duncan Watmore still out, Allardyce isn’t blessed with great options but the bench could be key in the fight for survival. Sunderland need to get it right.