When Lee Johnson announced last Friday that Bailey Wright had returned to training, the Sunderland manager had a beaming smile on his face.
Little did he know, however, that his Australian stalwart was going to be thrown in at the deep end after their first defeat in 14 matches.
The Mackems have been brilliant in recent months but their 2-1 loss at the hands of Charlton last weekend dealt an almighty blow to their hopes of earning automatic promotion.
Though, those hopes were dealt another potentially catastrophic blow when they lost to Wigan Athletic on Tuesday evening. This was arguably one of the worst performances under Johnson as the Black Cats were made to rue a number of defensive errors.
This was a display that was completely out of character with how their defence have shaped up since February. With Luke O’Nien and Dion Sanderson a centre-back pairing, Sunderland had kept seven clean sheets in 12 games.
That being said, things have fallen by the wayside in the last few weeks; Johnson’s men now haven’t kept a shutout in four matches.
As they fell to a dismal 2-1 defeat on Tuesday, it was their defence who came under scrutiny. Wright was welcomed back into the starting XI after a late injury to Conor McLaughlin which meant that O’Nien had to shuffle across to right back with the Aussie coming in at centre-half.
Unfortunately, both players were left exposed. O’Nien could have done more for both goals as a pair of defensive calamities led to strikes being conceded from two set-pieces.
Wright has usually been so reliable for Sunderland and until his calf injury in February, had only missed one league game.
Though, on this display, he could be missing a few more between now and the end of the season. The defender tried to play long balls forward on a regular basis and that led to him conceding possession of the ball on a whopping 19 occasions.
For context, no Mackems played lost it more. That also led to a measly pass success rate of just 69%. Of those to start the game from an outfield perspective, only Charlie Wyke and Denver Hume registered a worse percentage.
Wright did prevail in eight aerial duels but ultimately, he looked off the pace and unfit. That’s hardly surprising given his lack of action but considering how adept he’s been in the past, he appeared to be a shadow of his former self.
At full-time, Johnson claimed that he felt “a little bit let down” by the performance of some of his players.
That was certainly the case with Wright. The boss should revert back to a centre-back partnership of O’Nien and Sanderson next time out.