Heading Up – Will The Humble Header Be Pivotal In Sunderland’s Promotion Push?

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Callum McFadzean’s goal last Saturday against Lincoln City increased Sunderland’s clear lead at the top of the league table.

Not the actual league table, of course, but the table of headed goals in the top four divisions.

Of the Black Cats’ 54 goals this season, 20 of them have come courtesy of the head.

No other team across the divisions comes close. Promotion rivals Hull City have notched 14 off the nut, while Portsmouth have managed 13 of their goals this season from headers.

Unsurprisingly, Sunderland’s 20 headed goals is the biggest such return in recent memory.

It’s certainly the highest since statisticians started compiling records on how goals are scored, whether it be the foot, the head, or in fact the posterior – Danny Graham’s solitary Sunderland Premier League goal at Everton, I’m looking at you.

During last year’s curtailed League One season under a combination of Jack Ross and Phil Parkinson, Sunderland notched a measly five goals from headers, contributing just 10% of their total goals that campaign.

In their first season under Ross, it was a return of 13, the highest tally since Roy Keane’s Black Cats bulldozed their way to promotion in 2006-7.

Of course, it’s no real secret why we’ve scored so many headed goals this season. Step forward, South Bank’s very own Charles Thomas Wyke.

Wyke has been responsible for 11 of Sunderland’s 20 headed goals in League One this season – four of them in the same game. And of course, from the same crosser, Aiden McGeady.

Focusing on crosses neatly exemplifies Lee Johnson’s pragmatism at Sunderland. Very quickly he identified that McGeady possesses incredible quality on the ball at this level, and that Wyke is an old-fashioned targetman happiest when he is smashing in headers from teasing crosses. A golden partnership was staring us in the face all along, and Johnson has unlocked it.

It’s simple, but effective.

It also makes you question just what on earth Parkinson was doing. It’s not a cheat code to play McGeady and Wyke together. The results have been devastating, but these two have been in the same squad since Wyke joined from Bradford City in August 2018. Did it not occur to him that the most likely supplier of crosses was McGeady? 

We shouldn’t go over old ground on why McGeady was frozen out by Parkinson. But you can’t help thinking that if these two were allowed to strike up a partnership last season, we might not have finished eighth.

It’s not just McGeady doing the business on the flanks – Jordan Jones, Grant Leadbitter, Max Power and, when fit, Denver Hume, all possess the ability to whip a ball in.

That’s not to say we’re a one-trick pony. We’ve seen that we can score goals from all areas of the pitch this season.

And it’s not all on Charlie Wyke. Ross Stewart has already shown in a short amount of time that he can take the pressure off the League One top scorer, while Aiden O’Brien is also a threat.

It’s yielding results, it is winning football matches – and could well be the main contributor to us achieving promotion at the third time of asking.

Richard Easterbrook