Former Sunderland forward Stephen Elliott believes there wasn’t a huge amount between the Black Cats and Portsmouth at the weekend despite the latter’s 4-0 win at Fratton Park, writing in his column for the Sunderland Echo.
Before the clash on the south coast, Elliott’s former side had lost just one game in nine during the 2021/22 campaign, winning seven and drawing one as they sat three points clear at the top of the League One table.
However, they were on the receiving end of a hammering against Danny Cowley’s men, with Marcus Harness, Lee Brown and John Marquis putting the home side 3-0 up before half-time before the latter added a fourth just after the hour mark.
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Considering they had conceded just seven goals in those nine league matches, this heavy defeat came as a huge shock to many after seeing Portsmouth struggle for consistency in the early stages of the campaign.
After a 5-0 victory against Cheltenham Town on Tuesday night, they received their own thumping and will now be hoping to re-establish their lead at the top of the third-tier table after being leapfrogged on goal difference by Wigan Athletic.
The scoreline would suggest there was a clear gulf in class between the two sides on the day, with the Black Cats simply not stepping up to the plate against a side that will also be hoping to be in contention for promotion at the end of the season.
But Stephen Elliott disputes this, writing in the Sunderland Echo: “There wasn’t a lot between the teams really on Saturday but the home team just adjusted to the circumstances better.
“They started much better as they hurried and harassed the Sunderland team and set the tone for the afternoon.
“The weather also slightly suited their more direct approach towards John Marquis, which was a lot more effective than Sunderland’s style of trying to get the ball down and play.
“Lee Johnson felt himself and his team could have done a bit more on the day to make it a more competitive game and he probably is right but I’m sure they will be more prepared for games like this in the future.”
In defence of Elliott’s verdict, Sunderland won a higher percentage of their duels than Pompey, lost the ball less, had more possession and had a higher passing accuracy.
However, they didn’t create anywhere near enough to have a chance of getting in the game and the south-coast side, on the other hand, created a fair bit and were too clinical on the day for Lee Johnson’s men.
It may seem strange to criticise their attack considering they conceded four on the day, but Wearside outfit didn’t do enough to trouble Gavin Bazunu in the Portsmouth goal.
Perhaps this is a little harsh considering the weather conditions they had to deal with on the day, but it was the same for both sides and the home side were able to adapt to that and thrive against that adversity with their more effective style of play.
Elliott is right in saying though that Pompey’s start was key. They didn’t let Sunderland get comfortable and when you’re facing a strong side like the Black Cats, this will always be a vital component in any potential victory.
(Stats via wyscout.com)