What happened at the Stadium of Light as Sunderland played out a 1-1 draw with Oxford United in League One

Lee Johnson’s side returned to action in League One against Oxford United this afternoon.

Saturday, 4th December 2021, 5:18 pm

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Elliot Embleton

A young Sunderland side were knocked out of the Papa John’s Trophy on Wednesday night against Oldham Athletic.

But the Black Cats could only draw with Oxford United despite hitting the woodwork twice in the second half.

Here, we’ll be brought you all of the pre-match build-up and updates throughout the game:

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Sunderland vs Oxford United RECAP

Last updated: Saturday, 04 December, 2021, 16:19

  • Sunderland faced Oxford United at the Stadium of Light this afternoon
  • The fixture marks the first of three home League One games for Lee Johnson
  • The Wearsiders won their last league fixture 2-1 away to Cambridge United
  • The Black Cats have won eight points from their last four League One matches

Karl Robinson talks ahead of clash

Oxford United head coach Karl Robinson will run the rule over his returning Covid absentees before he names his team.

Robinson had only 13 outfield players from which to select ahead of Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Rotherham following a coronavirus outbreak within the squad, with Simon Eastwood, Anthony Forde, Elliott Moore, John Mousinho, Mark Sykes, Matty Taylor and Jordan Thorniley all isolating, and although those missing are now back in training, some are more advanced in their recovery than others.

The U’s have a particular issue in the goalkeeping department after emergency loan signing Connal Trueman’s return to Birmingham, with Eastwood training, but Jack Stevens working his way back to full fitness after a bout of glandular fever.

Ryan Williams missed out against the Millers with a thigh problem, while Alex Gorrin is sidelined by knee ligament damage.

Sunderland host Oxford at the Stadium of Light in a 3pm KO on Saturday. The game has been arranged for this weekend as both clubs have been knocked out of the FA Cup.

Sunderland head into the game on the back of the Papa John’s Trophy cup exit to Oldham.

Meanwhile, Sunderland’s League One promotion rivals Portsmouth are confident Mahlon Romeo will stay put for the season.

Sunderland and Ipswich Town have been credited with an interest in the defender last summer.

Our sister title The News report: “The News understands there’s no recall clause for the right-back to return to Millwall in January.

“That’s despite Lions boss Gary Rowett indicating he would consider taking the in-form right-sided player back to The Den next month.”

Drama at League One rivals

Ex-Sunderland boss Simon Grayson is among the early favourites for the Doncaster Rovers job, with John O’Shea also named in the bookies favourites.

On Thursday night, Rovers sacked Richie Wellens – and hope to appoint his successor within a fortnight.

Former Boro and Bournemouth boss Jonathan Woodgate is among the early names in the frame along with Grayson, who recently left Fleetwood Town.

Ex-Sunderland defender O’Shea’s name has also been mentioned.

Doncaster have taken the decision with the January transfer window in mind to give the new boss time to assess the squad and bring in fresh faces.

Rovers are deep in relegation trouble in League One, Gary McSheffrey takes temporary charge.

Wellens, who spent two spells with Rovers as a player, was appointed following the end of last season but Doncaster have won just three of their 19 league games so far and sit 23rd in the table.

A club statement read: “Doncaster Rovers can confirm that Richie Wellens has left the club with immediate effect.

“The club’s board have taken the decision that a change is required at this time in order for a permanent appointment to be made in time for the opening of the January transfer window.

“Wellens departs Rovers with the club 23rd in Sky Bet League One, with the Papa John’s Trophy defeat at Crewe Alexandra on Wednesday night his final game in charge.

“U18s manager Gary McSheffrey will take charge of the team for Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup tie at home to Mansfield Town.”

Injury latest on the Sunderland front

As Lee Johnson nears a year at the helm on Wearside, he is facing one of his toughest tests.

Seven senior players, all of whom could be considered strong options to start league games, have been sidelined with injury.

Most challenging is that it has left with severely limited options both at full back and in central midfield.

As happened last season when he was left with virtually no senior centre-back options, he is faced with trying to find tactical solutions that keep players in relatively settled positions, and ones that aren’t entirely unfamiliar.

So when exactly will Johnson’s options begin to improve again?

The Sunderland head coach said that he is hopeful to have two players back sometime this month, understood to be Dennis Cirkin and Corry Evans.

Cirkin recently had a hernia operation but Johnson has explained that the surgery option taken was the ‘best-case scenario’. That means the full back is expected back around three weeks from the date of the operation, raising the prospect of some involvement around the festive fixtures.

Evans is also due back around then, although Sunderland are yet to fully assess the impact of a thigh problem picked up in the warm up at Cambridge United.

The initial prognosis is an absence of two to four weeks.

Getting that duo back to fitness would be a boost for Johnson, as it would give him the option of returning to a back four if desired.

Not only would Cirkin finally give him a natural full-back option, but Evans’ return would also create the option of returning Carl Winchester to the right-back berth he so excelled in earlier this season.

Having said that, the Northern Irishman was superb at the heart of midfield at the Abbey Stadium and may well see this as a major opportunity to make the position his own. There is certainly a marked increase in both the confidence and tenacity with which he plays at the moment.

Next slated for a return is Denver Hume, on track to return around two months from the ankle injury sustained at QPR.

That means a possible return at the turn of the year, with Niall Huggins expected to be a few weeks behind him.

Both, it should be said, have had little football this season and so will not be at full match sharpness straight away.

A little further behind will be Aiden McGeady and Luke O’Nien.

It is hoped that McGeady will be fit again in February, with O’Nien perhaps returning around a month after that.

O’Nien’s recovery timeline is not fully set at this stage, but the initial feedback to the club has been that it is likely to be closer to three months than the nine initially feared.

All of which means that it seems highly likely that Johnson will temporarily continue with the shift to a five-man defence.

Lynden Gooch has impressed as a wing back in the past and again on Saturday, and while it is unfamiliar to Leon Dajaku on the opposite flank, he made a solid start at Cambridge.

Johnson has looked at the free agent market and says there are options there, but would prefer to promote from within.

That a full back and central midfielder will be key January priorities is increasingly obvious.

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