In all but two of Sunderland’s League One games to date, the Lads have fallen behind to an early goal.
Four of those five goals, including Fleetwood Town’s opener, have come inside the first 10 minutes, and while we remain unbeaten in the league, Jack Ross will want to put an end to this trend as soon as possible.
This weekend, it was the turn of Joey Barton’s side, who scored easily from a corner as they dominated the early stages at the Stadium of Light. Paddy Madden headed home, rising above an out-of-sorts Adam Matthews, who would later chop down James Husband to give away a penalty. The right-back had an awful afternoon and was later replaced by Tom Flanagan, who may now find himself in line for a start against his former club Burton next weekend.
Thankfully, Joey Barton demanded in form Ched Evans hand over the spot kick to Madden, whose weak effort was comfortably saved by Jon McLaughlin. Remarkably, this was the first ever penalty save by a Sunderland goalkeeper at the Stadium of Light.
The penalty, coming at the start of the second half, resulted from some sloppy Sunderland play as they once again struggled to match the opposition’s intensity at the start of a half. Having got themselves back into the game towards the end of the first period with some lovely football involving the impressive Denver Hume and the lively George Honeyman, which resulted in Josh Maja’s fifth of the season, the lack of intensity at the start of the second was disappointing if not quite alarming.
Maja’s finish was far from his most clinical of the season and Alex Cairns’ rather limp attempt to save it confirmed to me that McLaughlin, while far from faultless, looks to be the division’s best goalkeeper.
The standard of goalkeeping in League One suggests a fit and firing Aiden McGeady will have a field day shooting from range. The Irishman’s return to fitness cannot come soon enough, with additional options in wide areas now much needed. Chris Maguire’s performance levels have dropped to a worryingly low standard, and it was no surprise to see him hooked early in the second half after putting in a dismal, selfish display.
Maguire’s replacement, Jerome Sinclair, looked a lively, pacey, physical threat and he must surely be in line for a start next weekend. Perhaps a switch to 3-5-2 would get the best out of Sinclair and Maja, with Lyndon Gooch and Oviedo occupying the wingback positions. This would allow Ross to get additional height and presence in the team, with Flanagan slotting into the third centre back role.
Until Max Power is fit, the midfield three would remain the same, despite the excellent Lee Cattermole and rather disappointing Dylan McGeouch getting in one another’s way at times on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Honeyman continues to divide the Sunderland fanbase; against Fleetwood, I thought he was, for the most part, brilliant, not only setting up the goal, but creating other opportunities, one of which Jack Baldwin really should have converted.
Had he done so, Sunderland would have deservedly won the game.