Sunderland boss delivers this verdict on encouraging Harrogate win and what pleased him the most
Lee Johnson says he is encouraged by the way his Sunderland side are developing after an excellent attacking display at Harrogate Town.
The Black Cats raced into a 3-0 lead by half time at The Envirovent Stadium courtesy of an Elliot Embleton brace and a fine finish from Carl Winchester as he broke forward from right-back.
A deflected Ellis Taylor cross added the gloss to the scoreline late in the second half.
Sunderland's head coach felt the display was a reflection of his philosophy beginning to take hold.
"You want a nice balance in your squad, not just the team, but your squad," he said.
"First and foremost, I want the footballing ability. That to me today is starting to look like, in inverted commas, a Lee Johnson team.
"It’s the breaking of the lines with the passes, it’s the centre-half driving out from the back, it’s the number tens dropping into the space, it’s the overlaps from the full-backs. The highlights reel of that game today is what I want to get to in my mind’s eye. "There’s obviously McGeady to come into that, Pritchard to come into that, any new signing’s come into that as well. I thought we were tactically very bright in the first half, and that showed in our performance."
Johnson was particularly pleased with the way Winchester and Dan Neil on the opposite flank stepped into unfamiliar defensive roles.
"We’re without full-backs at the moment, so you’ve got to find solutions sometimes," Johnson said.
"Today, the solution in my mind was to put as many footballers on as I could. It’s always really been my dream to play a team of midfielders, one day I’ll get there but today was probably as close as I’ve got"
"Sometimes, you put an extra footballer onto the pitch when you’re playing a total football game like we were trying to play today and it works.
"Look at Man City for example when they had their problem and put Zinchenko, a number ten, at left-back. We’ve done it before with Gooch. Good players can supplement good players, and should be able to in any position. That was really pleasing.
"We had good play in those areas and Dan was excellent. That’s the best game he’s had I’ve seen."
The Sunderland head coach was heavily criticial of the decision to move the game behind closed doors, a decision communicated by the local safety advisory group barely 24 hours before the game was due to kick off.
That was the one negative of an encouraging afternoon for his side.
“I just couldn’t believe it," he said.
"I felt so sorry for the Sunderland fans. I know 1,000 of them, or whatever it was, would have spent money on today.
"They would have spent money on train fares – we put this fixture on because it’s a great place to come and have a weekend as well, and we thought a lot of people would do that, which they have.
"I just empathise with them because it’s so frustrating. In my opinion, even if they’d had to have reduced capacity, they should have let our fans in because of the costs they would have incurred.”