Jack Ross was pleased with the way his side fought back against Wycombe Wanderers last weekend, but there was no doubt that the team, to be begin with at least, fell short of their usual levels.
Particularly in attack, where Sunderland were ‘blunt’ and struggled to open up their resolute opponents.
The solution Ross found in the week was an eye-catching 4-4-2 formation, with Lynden Gooch moved infield to partner Josh Maja in a fairly orthodox striking role.
Bryan Oviedo lined up on the right wing after making his return to the starting XI.
By the end, Gooch joked that he had ended up playing four different positions in the game.
Best made plans, and all that.
Max Power’s red meant Ross had to quickly rip up his gameplan but there may yet be a longer term impact of those initial calls.
Ross admits the decision to move Gooch was strengthened by his peformance against Cardiff City at the Stadium of Light last season.
Gooch played just behind James Vaughan in that game and impressed despite the 2-1 defeat.
“This week was an interesting one, on the back of last week I felt we were a little bit blunt in the final third and we always look at how best to find a solution for the next game,” Ross said.
“We had a few injuries, even Chris [Maguire] was only really fit enough for the bench, although he wanted to play.
“I just think Lynden has got a lot to offer there.
“I spent a good bit of time last week watching some footage of old games, he has played up there in that position,” he added.
“Cardiff last season at the Stadium of Light, I think he played that area, I think he is effective in that area.
“Wherever he has played this season he has been great, his contribution. The first 20-25 minutes when he played up there, he was very good.”
Ross’s instincts were underlined by a discussion with Head of Performance Analysis Mark Boddy.
Gooch has thrived in a right wing berth since his switch there for the 4-1 win over Derby last season, but that versatility gives Ross extra options, particularly with the return of Duncan Watmore on the horizon.
“I’m fortunate to have Mark Boddy here, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the games and he can very quickly give me answers to questions,” he said.
“It is good to sometimes support what you are sometimes thinking in your own head.
“I obviously spoke to Lynden about it and he did work with it and I thought he did well.
“It is great to have that other option.”
Oviedo’s move further up the pitch is also one that could well be repeated in future games.
Ross has been impessed by his quality in the final third and when chasing the game against Wycombe, it was the Costa Rican who he turned to.
But Reece James has been excellent defensively and so has Denver Hume, who is close to a eturn.
Oviedo’s long-term future may be in doubt byt for now, Ross is keen to maximise the attacking potential he sees every day in training.
Ross was particularly frustrated with the red shown to Power given the start his side had made.
“It was one of those days when I felt everyone was at it,” he said.
“Last week I didn’t think we were at it [to begin with].
“This week we looked like a very good team.
“It was as complete away performance as I have seen for 20-25 minutes.
“You are standing satisfied, not concerned, because I felt the goal would come but then the decision came.”
Sunderland welcome Barnsley on Tuesday night for a huge clash at the top of League One, but Gooch himself is confident that the Black Cats will have no problems with fatigue after such a demanding afternoon in Walsall.
“It’s a big chance to go further ahead of us, we know they’ll challenge as well, they’re a tough side, so it’s a big game at home,” he said.
“We’ve got really good legs in the team and a big squad. These are the games you want to play in and we’ll be ready to go.
“We’re a really close group. You could see that at 2-0 down, we didn’t give up, kept pushing each other and got our reward.
“We have that belief that we’re the best team in the league. Last week we couldn’t win to go top and this week we couldn’t but considering the chain of events, in the grand scheme of things, that’s a great point. “