How Lee Johnson's time away from football has helped Sunderland adapt to system changes

Lee Johnson believes his time away from the game has been key in helping his side adjust to a new system.

Saturday, 27th February 2021, 8:00 am

Johnson has stated that he wants his side to play from the basis of a 4-3-3 or 4-2-2-2 system, but defensive injuries have forced a switch to a 3-4-3 for recent games.

With a makeshift defence the results have been impressive; Sunderland keeping clean sheets in their most recent two League One wins.

Johnson has said that the presence of players like Luke O'Nien in defensive roles means his side have more of a 'total football' philosophy in possession, but off the ball many of his principles remain the same.

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Sunderland Head Coach Lee Johnson

Sunderland's Head Coach believes that the work he did on his playing philosophy following his departure from Bristol City is paying dividends for the Black Cats.

"For me, it's about the defined rules [within all systems]," he said.

"I'll be honest it was something that I assessed when I had that five months to really look at things and consider things after my sacking at Bristol City.

"Often when you change the shape, especially from a five to a four, it's quite different in the slide and the way that the full backs and the wing backs press.

"So I had to design, or tweak if you like, the philosophy so that we could play three different shapes and still bring out the qualities of our individuals, but not change the defensive rules too much.

"So for example on Tuesday night, the only unit that had any sort of change in the 3-4-3 was the two central midfielders, and it was only one or two defined differences which makes it very easy to understand."

Johnson has also been full of praise for O'Nien and Lynden Gooch, whose versatility have been crucial in allowing him to easily switch between systems.

Gooch had thrived in a wing-back role at Burton Albion but with the Black Cats labouring somewhat in the opening stages of the Fleetwood Town win, the 25-year-old was moved up front in support of Charlie Wyke at the interval.

The result was emphatic, a spell of Sunderland pressure leading to Aiden O'Brien's crucial opening goal midway through the second half.

"Especially when you've got the flexibility of players like Lynden Gooch and Luke O'Nien, it's a real strength to the squad because obviously you can pick an XI and then adjust within the game," Johnson said.

"Myself, as a player I'd have been fuming if someone had stuck me out on the left or at right-back, so as a coach I fully appreciate the attitude these players are showing in enjoying that versatility."

With Tom Flanagan still a few days away from contention for selection in the starting XI, Johnson's biggest dilemma for the trip to Crewe Alexandra on Saturday afternoon is likely to be whether he recalls midfielder Josh Scowen.

The midfielder, who missed Tuesday's win with a minor hamstring injury, has been a regular under Johnson but Max Power and Grant Leadbitter have excelled as a partnership in his absence.

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