Sunderland going through the gears?

If Sunderland go onto win the League One title this season, then last week’s 2-1 victory over Portsmouth will be remembered as a defining game.

The Black Cats had shown little tangible improvement from their 2018-19 performances in their first two encounters, 1-1 draws with Oxford and Ipswich respectively.

After a difficult start saw them fall behind through Max Power’s error, an uphill afternoon against Pompey looked in store – it could have ended with very early question marks over manager Jack Ross.

Luckily for the Scot, his side responded very well and – thanks to a bullet Jordan Willis header, then a moment of Aiden McGeady magic that teed up Chris Maguire’s tap-in – they secured a 2-1 victory that might have kick-started their campaign.

Ross’ decision to switch from the 3-4-1-2 he experimented with in pre-season and in the opening two fixtures to a 4-2-3-1 appears to suit the squad better, with the Wearsiders winning 2-1 at Rochdale on Tuesday.

That’s not to say that Sunderland have looked entirely fluid and coherent since the change – they did rely on Portsmouth missing one or two chances and Jon McLaughlin making key late saves at Spotland – but the setup allows them to incorporate two of their most naturally gifted players in McGeady and Maguire, who combined nicely at times last Saturday.

Plus, athletic centre-back Jordan Willis is starting to form a very strong pairing with the more cultured Alim Ozturk.

These last two victories put them on eight points, so the situation looks rosier than it did a week ago and confidence will likely grow from here.


Wimbledon’s team of two halves

AFC Wimbledon have not had the start to the League One campaign that they might have hoped for.

In 2-1 defeats to Rotherham, Fleetwood and Ipswich, they played well for 45-minute periods.

The Wombles were on top for much of the second half against the Millers and were hit by a late sucker-punch against the run of play, then looked bright in transition in the first half on the Fylde coast and in Suffolk – so there are certain positives to take.

However, the effectiveness of their play is entirely dependent on energy levels and thus their game is more conducive to playing well in short bursts, through the pressing of Joe Pigott and especially Michael Folivi, followed up by tenacious midfielders Callum Reilly and Scott Wagstaff.

The Wombles need to acquire another side to their game when the high-octane football does not work; more pertinently, they need to use midfielder Anthony Hartigan more.

Hartigan is an excellent controller who has come through the academy but has not quite been able to influence games as much as he could do – under Neal Ardley as well as Wally Downes, this is – because so much of the play bypasses the midfield.

The team is not yet comfortable just holding onto the ball and that was problematic when they had the lead against Accrington last weekend and then saw their opponents reduced to 10-men – if they were able to recycle possession in that scenario, they would likely have won but kept giving it away cheaply and that was why they had to settle for a 1-1 draw.


Significant second half for Sunderland?

We can expect Wimbledon to produce a competitive start in the north-east and maybe go in level at the break, but then Sunderland would be likely to take control with the Championship quality they possess.

Tips: Half-Time/Full-Time: Draw/Sunderland


Read Gabriel’s League Two weekend preview.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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