Sunderland handed Aiden McGeady dilemma as Marc McNutly sends a message in Oxford United clash
Sunderland saw their Carabao Cup run come to an end at the hands of Oxford United, but there were plenty of lessons for Phil Parkinson and his staff to take from the fourth round tie.
We take a look at the FIVE key things we learnt from the penalty shootout defeat:
Sunderland are in dire need of a spark
While they were much-improved after the break, Sunderland’s first half display was laboured in an attacking sense.
A change in shape prompted a vastly different offensive outlook, but the Black Cats still look like they’re lacking that little spark.
Grant Leadbitter has a role to play
The midfielder, while occasionally sloppy in possession, showcased exactly what he can bring to this Sunderland side - inch-perfect distribution.
In the first half in particular his raking cross-field balls were the source of most of the visitors’ openings, with Marc McNulty and Aiden McGeady often the beneficiaries.
The Aiden McGeady dilemma continues
How do Sunderland get the best out of their star man?
He played in a more central role in the first half and, at times, looked to benefit from being given free reign to drift wide and receive the ball.
But he failed to create any meaningful chances, and fared no better when he moved out wide in the second period.
The Black Cats need to figure out how to unlock McGeady’s quality - and fast.
Four at the back is the way forward
Parkinson started with a back three at the Kassam Stadium and, while it would be unfair to pin the blame on them for the lax showing in the opening 45 minutes, Sunderland did vastly improved when they switched to a 4-4-2 as they sought a leveller.
With goals hard to come by in recent weeks, it may be that the Wearsiders stick with that shape moving forward.
Marc McNulty deserves a shot
The striker has been deprived of starts in the league in recent weeks, but was Sunderland’s most potent threat Oxford.
He struck the post after dragging an early effort wide, before scoring with an instinctive finish.
With Charlie Wyke injured and Will Grigg struggling for form, McNulty now surely deserves his shot.