How Carl Winchester nullified Bolton Wanderers' main threat and played a key role in Sunderland's attack
On the face of it, you may think Sunderland’s matchwinner against Bolton Wanderers came from an unlikely source.
When Carl Winchester arrived at the far post to convert Dennis Cirkin’s low cross in the 17th minute, the right-back sent the Stadium of Light crowd into raptures, yet it’s not the first time that has happened this season.
This was the Northern Irishman’s third goal of the campaign, despite playing in a back four, and it’s perhaps less surprising when you look at the positions he takes up.
Against Bolton, there were large spells when Winchester was playing more like a winger than a full-back.
And not only did his offensive mindset give Sunderland an extra attacking threat, it also nullified one of Bolton’s major assets.
Oladapo Afolayan is Wanderers’ top scorer this season with four league goals, yet he spent most of the match on the fringes at the Stadium of Light.
Afolayan has been praised for his ability to carry the ball quickly and run at opposition defences, yet that was hard to do when he was forced to track Winchester’s forays forward (Figure One).
The Bolton wideman wasn’t able to stop the opening goal (Figure Two) and was repeatedly pinned back in the first half, as Sunderland pressed from the front to stop the visitors playing out.
Winchester’s role in his side’s pressing game was key, as the full-back made six interceptions, more than any other player on the pitch, and he often pitched the ball from Afolayan’s feet.
As a result, most of Bolton’s attacks came down the opposite flank, where Cirkin was also able to keep tabs on Wanderers wideman Lloyd Isgrove.
In possession, Winchester also provided a regular outlet for his side and was repeatedly available to receive diagonal passes from Callum Doyle in the left centre-back role.
The Northern Irishman delivered regular crosses into the Bolton box after receiving the ball in the opposition’s half, yet the Black Cats weren’t able to capitalise and double their advantage.
While some may have felt Winchester would return to his more natural midfield position this season, he is still having a huge influence on games from the right side of defence.