Sunderland's defensive dilemma after Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham defeats - with decisions to be made on West Ham and Manchester City loanees
Two games, eight goals conceded. Eight goals! In League One!
The inquest into Sunderland' s recent defeats will be a sobering experience but is something that can’t be ignored.
Lee Johnson’s side may return to action against League Two outfit Mansfield in the FA Cup this weekend, but will have to wait until their next league fixture at home to Ipswich on November 20.
Their performance against the improving Tractor Boys will have to be significantly better after 5-1 and 3-0 defeats against Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday respectively.
So where has it all gone wrong?
Just a few weeks ago, the team’s back five, including goalkeeper Thorben Hoffmann, looked relatively settled, yet they have since been torn apart.
Firstly, the blame can’t be entirely pinned on Sunderland’s defenders.
As pointed out after the team’s defeats against Rotherham and Charlton, the Black Cats have struggled to play against opponents operating with attacking wing-backs. It was a similar story at Sheffield Wednesday.
Theo Corbeanu, on loan from Wolves, opened the scoring when he was left completely unmarked on the left, while he also beat Lynden Gooch too easily to assist Wednesday’s second for Florian Kamberi to convert.
Kambari, a former Sunderland target, was described by Wednesday boss Darren Moore as a ‘constant threat’ alongside strike partner Lee Gregory.
The Black Cats clearly need to find a way to stop the supply when they are up against two physical strikers, yet they must also deal with them much better.
Since pre-season Tom Flanagan and Manchester City loanee Callum Doyle have formed an effective centre-back partnership, yet the duo have struggled in recent weeks.
With Doyle, who enjoyed an impressive start to the season but is still only 18, it was probably inevitable he would encounter a dip in form at some stage.
The teenager was held off the ball by Kamberi for Wednesday’s third goal – the striker did the same to Carl Winchester for the opener – and also appears to have lost confidence when trying to play out from the back.
A look at Doyle’s attempted passes show the centre-back was forced to play far more sideways passes against Wednesday, with Kamberi and Gregory pressing Sunderland’s defence high up the pitch.
While the same could be said of the visitors’ entire back four, when Doyle did attempt to pass the ball forward his passes were often misplaced, which is a contrast from earlier in the season.
The dilemma for Johnson is whether he gives the teenager a breather, bearing in mind he is the team’s only left-footed centre-back who brought balance to the team earlier in the campaign.
Flanagan has also struggled recently and won just one of his four aerial duels against Wednesday.
Bailey Wright has looked impressive in cup games this term but has struggled in the league, while his appearance in a back three during the second half at Rotherham didn’t help the cause for a change of system.
Frederik Alves must surely be expecting more minutes in the league and, while there are still unknowns about the West Ham loanee, his athleticism and stature both work in his favour.
Whoever starts for that Ipswich fixture later this month, they must find a way to stop this worrying trend.