Stephen Elliott: Sunderland boss Phil Parkinson got this major selection call wrong against Portsmouth

It is perhaps a bit premature in the season for a knee-jerk reaction but Saturday’s game against Portsmouth was one that maybe tells us a bit more about where the team actually is.

Monday, 26th October 2020, 5:00 pm

Leading into the game we have had more or less everything our own way without any real questions being asked.

Perhaps the defeat and performance will give the squad and management team a timely reminder that promotion this season is not going to be as simple as what it had seemed until now.

I must admit I was quite surprised to see Luke O’Nien continuing in the back three.

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Bailey Wright in action for Sunderland against Portsmouth.

He didn’t let anyone down filling in there, which I alluded to last week, but against a team who on paper had some strong attacking options, I felt an actual centre-back should have played.

For me, Tom Flanagan should have returned to the team as his established partnership with Jordan Willis and Bailey Wright at the heart of defence has been a big positive this campaign.

Even Conor McLaughlin could have thought himself unlucky to miss out after some strong performances last week.

The decision to play O’Nien there proved to a be a mistake by Parkinson and one that Pompey used to their advantage.

I said to myself watching the game ‘get to half time at 2-1 and we can make a change’.

However, surprisingly the change never came. Evidently O’Nien continued to struggle in the second half which resulted in him getting sent off after giving the penalty away.

Straight from the start you felt it was gonna be a long afternoon for us. The pace and energy of Marcus Harness along with the presence of John Marquis beside him caused problems all game for the back three.

It was the first time this season that Sunderland didn’t have much of a grip on proceedings.

This was largely down to Harness sitting in and not giving Grant Leadbitter time to get his passing range going. Leadbitter struggled to get a foothold and will be the first to raise his hand for his mistake for their second goal.

When the opposition stifle your main player, which Leadbitter has been, you look at the others in the squad to step up and take responsibility.

I felt nobody did, or really knew how to do that, and Portsmouth had it all their own way for the majority of the game.

On a positive note it was good to see Charlie Wyke continue his impressive form with another tidy finish. That said, the run by Denver Hume and Wyke’s goal was probably the only plus point from an afternoon to forget for Sunderland.

The score didn’t flatter Portsmouth either and looking at the league table it brings all the favourites together around those promotion places.

Tactically Kenny Jacket came out on top and you have to say Parkinson’s substitutions late on seemed more of desperation, rather than changes of tactical nous.

He had got most things right until Saturday so he can be excused, providing the team can bounce back quickly.

With two away games coming up, against opposition you would expect us to beat, we hopefully won’t have to wait long for that positive reaction and Saturday will become a distant memory.

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