The latest test for Sunderland comes on the road at the hands of Shrewsbury Town – otherwise known as Salop – on Tuesday night. Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking the division’s “just a team” sitting in 21st place would be a fixture welcomed by head coach Lee Johnson. However, Montgomery Waters Meadow has not been a happy hunting ground for the Black Cats during their tenure in the third tier of English football.
In 2019, having hit the woodwork three times, Sunderland conspired to lose 1-0 thanks to a goal from floppy-haired Former Hibs striker, Jason Cummings. Then, last season, we managed to lose 2-1 – a rare goal at the time from Aiden O’Brien was overshadowed by the incompetence of Remi Matthews and on-loan full back Jake Vokins. Away supporters were thankfully spared due to Covid-19. The night was worsened by the sight of Jordan Willis being carried off, to applause from both sets of fans I might add, and yet to be seen in a Sunderland line-up since.
So what is the formula for overturning these League One minnows in their own back yard? It’s fair to say that our away form has been questionable of late, albeit against “higher calibre” opposition.
Shrewsbury set up with a typical 3-5-2 formation looking to make themselves hard to beat, utilising the target man Ryan Bowman up top. Stats wise, they don’t retain a lot of the ball, but do win the majority of balls in the air, and their fair share of duals. Big.. physical… typical League One surely?
With the lack of fit full-backs Johnson may well look to match Shrewsbury and go 3-5-2, utilising his cadre of wingers to step in as wing-backs. This would allow Italian slayer Tom Flanagan to slot back in, with Callum Doyle to the left side of the three, and Bailey Wright with the comfort blanket of two beside him. Lynden Gooch would be an obvious option for wingback, as is Carl Winchester (so he would), and the rejuvenated Luke O’Nien.
Shrewsbury, much like many others in this division, have had the luxury of consistency in selection, with ten of their playing squad having played 15 games or more this season.
For Sunderland, only six players have been relied upon to stay injury free since August. That being said, full-backs aside, the attacking options are good for Johnson going into this fixture, so the pint-sized head coach should really be looking to take the game to the opposition.
The home team will be missing the evergreen Elliot Bennett who was given his marching orders Saturday for a handball on the goal line – maybe he should’ve taken a leaf out of O’Nien’s book and waited until the ball crossed the line first.
All things considered, this is a game the lads should be looking to win, much in the way they dealt with other relegation prospects Crewe. Double that up with success at Cambridge Saturday, and that holy grail of 2 points per game average is back on track.