Lee Johnson gives the inside track on Sunderland's crucial debrief and has this optimistic message

After that Wigan defeat there was much for Lee Johnson and his squad to reflect on.

Saturday, 17th April 2021, 6:00 am

It was essentially a performance in two parts. There was the good, which was promptly undone by some woeful set-piece defending.

Then there was the bad, the panicked play that meant Leam Richardson's side were largely untroubled as they held onto their lead.

It made for an ugly result, and one that leaves Sunderland with no room for error as they face up to defining away games against Blackpool and Hull City.

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Lee Johnson watches on at the DW Stadium

Johnson's debrief looked at both sides of the defeat, but there is little doubt that it is set-piece defending that sits top of his agenda.

An honest discussion on Friday has left him hopeful that the Black Cats can stamp out those fundamental errors.

"It's very simply, concentration," he said.

"You've only got to look at the goals, and then that leads I think to that anxiety and negativity, and that lack of flow in a performance.

"When we've been at our best we've been rock solid in those details, of which dead balls are one.

"Goals are scored by a wonderful bit of play, a bad refereeing decision, or a mistake. What we've got to do is control as much as we can those dead-ball situations. There's around 150 in a game and so you've got to be world class on that front.

"Over the last two games, we haven't been. It can tough for coaching staff because that's human error and the human element.

"You've got to deal with it and it's something you've got to keep improving and working at over a 46-game season.

"I won't reveal all our secrets but we have been disappointed with the take-up of information over the last couple of weeks within the squad.

"It's something we addressed and to be fair, we've got a good bunch of lads here and the culprits have held their hand up, which means we move on very quickly.

"You learn your lesson and try to look forward.”

A quadruple substitution from the head coach did little to turn the tide and after a similarly disjointed end to the defeat against Charlton Athletic, those calls from Johnson have come under scrutiny.

He accepts that, but points out that willingness to make significant early changes has also worked in Sunderland's favour along the way.

"I suppose as a manager you're damned if you do and damned if you don't, in one sense," he said.

"You've got to commit.

"Do people want passive management, or do they want bold management? Well, I suppose people want good management, and that can be passive or bold.

"At Peterborough we were bold in terms of, making four strong substitutions who came on, did the business and we got the goal back.

"It's often in need of a goal that they'll be more drastic changes.

"But it's something we think long and hard about, and myself and our opposition analyst work very hard on in terms of every game scenario.

"You're always trying to tick various boxes, and there's some much information to it.

"For example, after how many minutes a player is starting to fatigue. So with Denver, he's had 30 minutes, then 40, then 60 if you like going into that game and physically, he was depleting quite a lot. So there you have a pre-meditated process in terms of potential scenarios and changes you might have to make.

"Sometimes you might have to go a bit more direct, and sometimes it's a change because individuals haven't brought their best.

"It's not a hard and fast rule that we're going to start making four, five subs all the time, but we do what we think is right.

"I suppose over 100 games you get judged on the decisions you get right or otherwise."

Johnson's rotation has also been the subject of scrutiny, and here the picture is complex.

The head coach has himself conceded that the growing number of options in recent weeks has provided issues, and affected the 'stability of his group'.

He is also facing a hectic schedule, and has had to deal with a raft of injuries in defensive positions.

Fatigue is always a fear at this stage of a season and in this one, particularly so.

"It's an understandable fear, people understand that these lads are humans and they can't keep running half marathons every three days at tempo," he said.

"It's always something that we've tried to negate by rotating the team in certain positions.

"Physically we haven't been bad if you look at the data, so it wasn't a lack of effort of running. But as I've said there was a lack of concentration and that is a fatigue in itself.

"We've all been there, when you study for an exam or whatever, and your concentration can get sapped when it matters.

"That's always the challenge and it's always a challenge for the players, because that will determine what level they're able to play at.

"It's something where, when you're coming behind and chasing that [top two] position, there isn't much room for slip ups.

"We've had two in three or four days, and obviously it catastrophises it that bit more."

Those injuries have worsened significantly this week, with Dion Sanderson and Conor McLaughlin facing spells on the sidelines.

Johnson's belief in his group remains strong, nevertheless: “There is a belief between now and the end of the season in the squad.

"We have got players that can cause damage to opponents. Yes, we're patching up certain areas at the back but that's been successful as well.

"It gives us a different dimension to our team, but we can still play quality football and that's what I expect. I expect a positive reaction, I expect a good performance and a team spirit that will take us through to a result at Blackpool."

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