The Signs of a Functional Team
Throughout this match and in recent games Sunderland have won games and not necessarily played good or attractive football; they have had a functional game-plan that the players have stuck to every match.
To get out of League 1 a team does not have to play high tempo passing football, it must be effective enough to score a couple of goals and keep a clean sheet.
Two years ago, Luton Town won the League playing like this. Luton have then built on this becoming a steady midtable team in the Championship. Phil Parkinson tried this last season and could not quite get the balance right as his side stopped scoring.
However, Lee Johnson seems to have found that balance, moving away from the confusing narrow formations from earlier in his tenure. Jordan Jones could be seen hugging the line consistently through the game which stretches the opposition.
Getting two early goals against teams lower down the league throws their plan to defend at all costs out of the window. They also do not possess the quality to go and score two goals themselves. The game is as good as finished by halftime.
Too many times under Jack Ross the Lads tried to score the protect passing goal and it led to triangles between the goalkeeper centre halves for much of the match.
MK Dons play some of the best football I have seen in this division as they attempt to play out from the back every game. Yesterday, they were physically bullied and lost 3-0 to a Wigan team that were bottom going into that game. They also find themselves 16th place in the table.
In recent times, the Black Cats seem to be getting the defensive side of the game right. With another clean sheet yesterday, the unlikely partnership of Dion Sanderson and Luke O’Nien keeps improving game by game.
In the first half, the unorthodox O’Nien made a superb, improvised block to stop Kwadwo Baah’s effort when he looked well beaten. A couple of months ago, anyone would have been laughed at to suggest O’Nien as a solution to Sunderland’s centre half crisis. However, his positional sense has improved markedly in the last couple of weeks making him look like a natural defender.
Youngster Ollie Younger also made his League debut yesterday, playing in an unnatural right back position. Going forward, it must be said that was he quite poor. Although defensively he was fantastic. He made many blocks and tackles, including a crucial header to stop a Rochdale forward from tapping the ball into the net. Unlike most players to come from the Sunderland u23s, Younger looks to have a real sense of physicality about him which makes him better equipped for senior football. If he keeps this up, he could be due a start at Wembley.
The Final Ball
It is quite hard to criticise a team that has now won five in six. However, the thing that is stopping this team from reaching the next level is the final ball.
On numerous occasions in the second half the Lads had the opportunity to further heap the misery on The Dale but failed to take their chances.
For instance, Jones sprinted down the right flank beating The Dale defenders for pace but failed to pick out Charlie Wyke in the box. Instead, he opted to cross to McGeady but got it all wrong. Unfortunately, Jones also managed to make the linesman injure himself as he tried to keep up with him.
Chris Maguire also had the chance to pick out either O’Brien or Wyke in the box but also failed to do so. These players have the quality to create these opportunities but not consistently. If they could do that, they would be playing in the division above and not at Sunderland.