How do you solve a problem like Lynden Gooch? It’s fair to say that when the winger is on song he causes the opposition no end of problems. Of course, the issue for Sunderland is, we have only seen him at his best during the briefest of moments.
The question around his consistency has certainly puzzled previous managers. And now head coach, Lee Johnson, has the same quandary – specifically, how can the Black Cats get the best from Gooch, long-term?
Perhaps the answer lies in first understanding what his best position is on the pitch?
Predominantly deployed as a right-sided winger, Gooch works tirelessly for the cause. But where has that player gone who showed so much promise in our Championship season? It feels like the 2017/18 version, much like the team, did not then progress further. No one could doubt his commitment though and netting the winner in last season’s Papa John’s Trophy Final at Wembley was a richly deserved moment for a lad who has become an adopted Mackem.
Yet, if we are honest, is ‘winger’ his best role?
Similar to that of fellow teammate Luke O’Nien, necessity has seen him utilised in a range of positions. Gooch has previously played left-back, right-back, a number 10 and winger when called upon.
But has he played his best football, more consistently, at right wing back?
Certainly Gooch had his best game this season by far against Cambridge United. While there has been some debate around whether Sunderland played a back four or a three with wingbacks at the Abbey Stadium, consensus suggests it was more like the latter.
So, as injuries have again decided to try and thwart the club’s promotion hopes, perhaps Johnson has stumbled upon a happy accident for the second time. In much the same way he suddenly remembered Dion Sanderson existed part way through last season, has Gooch seized an opportunity born more from happenstance than design?
At least in the short term, the stats would suggest so.
An assist and a pass success rate of 76% against the U’s, shows that he contributed to his side’s victory in the progressive sense but also winning 6 of his 9 duels as well as a significant number of his overall tackles evidences he did his bit defensively too. Comparatively, his defensive work certainly stood up to scrutiny alongside teammates Bailey Wright, Tom Flannagan and Calum Doyle. His nod for man of the match was not unwarranted either.
If Gooch has one major flaw though it is his insistence on over complicating things too often. Frequently, he appears to have the beating of his man only to dwell too long and lose out having tried to beat him a second or third time.
Wingback may require him to be more disciplined; more focused and as a result give him less time to overthink things. It certainly allows Sunderland to make the most of his engine. Getting up and down the wing has never been his issue.
Either way, at 25 Sunderland need to start seeing the best of Lynden Gooch and more often. Something the player himself would surely freely admit too. Perhaps then, an enforced change in the team’s shape in the weeks/months to come may just be the moment that this comes to pass.