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How Bailey Wright and Sunderland's defence thwarted Morecambe's Cole Stockton - with Cats showing more resilience ahead of Sheffield Wednesday play-off

While Sunderland were facing a Morecambe side still fighting to avoid relegation, they were also competing against one of the most prolific strikers at League One level.

Sunday, 1st May 2022, 4:00 pm

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Shrimps frontman Cole Stockton finished the campaign with 23 league goals, only Ross Stewart and Wigan’s Will Keane netted more, while the 28-year-old had bagged four in his last six matches before Sunderland’s visit to the Mazuma Stadium.

Still, Stockton rarely looked like adding to his tally against the Black Cats, as the hosts registered no shots on target and the striker finished the match with an expected goals figure of zero – according to football database Wyscout.

Sunderland’s defensive improvements since Alex Neil’s appointment in February have been clear, and the Black Cats have conceded just 10 goals in 15 matches under the Scot.

Sunderland defender Bailey Wright playing against Morecambe. Picture by FRANK REID

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That has partly been down to Neil’s use of the 3-5-2 formation, which has also allowed the side to play with two strikers, yet injuries have caused dilemmas with that system.

With Callum Doyle, Dennis Cirkin, and Carl Winchester all unavailable at Morecambe, Luke O’Nien was deployed as a left-sided centre-back alongside Danny Batth and Bailey Wright.

As Neil pointed out afterwards, O’Nien’s extra mobility helped negate the threat of pacey wideman Dylan Connolly, while Batth and Wright took it in turns to deal with Stockton.

As shown by the striker’s heatmap, Stockton regularly drifted out to the left where he came up against Wright, yet the forward found little joy.

Figure One: Cole Stockton's heat map vs Sunderland (Wyscout).

According to Wyscout, Stockton won just four of his 37 duels, while Wright in particular was quick to thwart the striker whenever he tried to drop deep and receive the ball to feet.

The Black Cats’ improved defensive record has also been helped by the form of captain Corry Evans, who once again did an excellent job of screening his side’s backline.

There were a couple of occasions when Stockton found more freedom in the final third, yet Wright also made an excellent tackle to prevent the striker going through on goal after 31 minutes.

Sunderland will need that defensive solidity when they come up against an in-form Sheffield Wednesday side in the play-offs, a team which beat them 3-0 earlier in the season.

The Black Cats were bullied at Hillsborough on that night in November but have become more resilient since.