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Lee Johnson weighs up his short and long-term formation dilemma at Sunderland

Lee Johnson is weighing up whether to continue with a back three as Sunderland look to build on the momentum of their win over Portsmouth at Bolton Wanderers this weekend.

By Phil Smith
Thursday, 27th January 2022, 12:00 pm

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Danny Batth came straight into the side last Saturday and produced a superb performance at the heart of the defence, after Johnson had agonised over what shape to play against Danny Cowley's side.

The situation had been complicated by the absence of Alex Pritchard and Bailey Wright due to calf strains, with both major doubts for the trip to the University of Bolton Stadium.

With Trai Hume still settling into life on Wearside after his move from Linfield, the prospect of maintaining stability in shape and selection last week will be tempting.Johnson, though, has conceded that he is likely to revert to a back four in the medium to long term.

Danny Batth in action at the Stadium of Light

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The head coach had already noted after the Portsmouth win that his options in the wide areas would be stronger once Patrick Roberts has built his fitness and Aiden McGeady is fit again.

Johnson can now also call upon Tottenham Hotspur loanee Jack Clarke, who is comfortable playing off either flank or through the middle.

"It played to our strengths on the day," Johnson said last Saturday.

"Moving forward I'm not sure when you've got Aiden McGeady, Leon Dajaku, Patrick Roberts, Elliot Embleton, Alex Pritchard.

"Sometimes you have to just go horses for courses.

"It was a risk on Saturday, no doubt, and I spent a lot of time last week deciding whether to play a three or four.

"They also play 3-4-3 and have very narrow forwards, which can cause you a problem especially when they push their wing backs high.

"It was the best way I could give a new team and a new player clarity to be able to go toe to toe. It was tight and it wasn't as fluid as we maybe would have liked it to be but at the same, it ended up playing into our hands."

Another factor moving forward is the poor state of the Stadium of Light pitch, which Johnson has already said will demand a shift to a more direct style in the short term.

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