How ex-Tottenham and Leeds man Jack Clarke allowed Sunderland to execute their game plan against Coventry

It was always going to be interesting how Alex Neil set his side up against established Championship outfit Coventry City for Sunderland’s opening game of the season.

The Sky Blues, who are entering their third consecutive campaign in England’s second tier, consistently played with a back three and wing-backs last term, Their style and shape, therefore, came as little surprise when they visited the Stadium of Light.

Neil, on the other hand, has admitted he prefers to set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, yet he has also tailored the side to match the opposition up.

Against Coventry, the Sunderland boss essentially deployed Jack Clarke and Lynden Gooch as wing-backs, with Dennis Cirkin moving inside to play alongside Daniel Ballard and Danny Batth at centre-back.

Jack Clarke playing for Sunderland against Coventry.

It was a move which paid off almost immediately, in front of a bumper crowd of 40,851, as Gooch’s cross from the right was headed in by Clarke with less than 12 minutes on the clock.

The attacking instincts of Clarke, who signed for Sunderland permanently from Tottenham this summer, and Gooch gave Sunderland constant outlets on the flanks in the first half.

Clarke, 21, arrived in the box again ten minutes later when he met Alex Pritchard’s in-swinging cross but fired his effort straight at goalkeeper Simon Moore.

The Sunderland wideman certainly caused problems for Coventry right wing-back and academy graduate Josh Eccles, who was a surprise starter over Fankaty Dabo, due to the latter’s lack of game time over pre-season.

Clarke became the provider at the start of the second half when he made an overlapping run before setting up Ross Stewart, whose shot from inside the box was tipped over the bar by Moore.

Yet, with a lead to defend, Sunderland were forced deeper and deeper as the second half wore on, with Viktor Gyokeres’ strike drawing the visitors level six minutes from time.

Clarke’s defensive work was also commendable, though, with the Black Cats staying organised in their shape when Coventry were in possession.

Dabo was brought on in place of Eccles with 17 minutes remaining and started to cause more problems on Coventry’s right, yet Black Cats goalkeeper Anothony Patterson wasn’t overly tested.

Still, while Sunderland remain short of natural options at left-back, Clarke’s ability to adapt helped Neil execute his game plan.