Lee Johnson is doing marvellous things with this Sunderland side. He has taken them to fourth in the League One table and is extracting the very best from the Mackems’ front line.
Aiden McGeady has recorded ten assists in just 16 outings for Johnson while Charlie Wyke has become the second top scorer in the entire division, although injuries are still wreaking havoc with the team.
Every week seems to spring more bad news for Johnson in the injury department. Last weekend the casualty happened to be Grant Leadbitter. The experienced midfielder was introduced as a substitute in the draw with Crewe but hobbled off within a matter of minutes.
The stretcher was brought out for Leadbitter, who went down in enormous pain. The positive was that he eventually walked off the field of play but he had still sustained a dislocated shoulder, the second such injury of this variety after Luke O’Nien’s dislocation a few months ago.
He is now set for a number of weeks on the sidelines, which could open up other opportunities for players to step up and take on the mantle in the middle of the park.
Josh Scowen has started two successive games in the middle now, but with games coming up thick and fast, Johnson will have to use the very depths of his squad to get Sunderland over the line and promoted.
O’Nien has been playing as a makeshift centre-half with further injuries to Bailey Wright, Tom Flanagan and Jordan Willis.
As a result, he won’t be able to offer a solution in midfield. Instead, the manager should turn to Carl Winchester, someone that started against Swindon last time out.
The midfielder signed in January from Forest Green Rovers but has been used sparingly since. Winchester has only started three matches and is yet to really see his career take off at the Stadium of Light.
That being said, he’s a player that Johnson and indeed managers throughout the EFL rate incredibly highly. The Black Cats boss took charge of the 27-year-old during his days at Oldham, where he waxed lyrical about his qualities.
“He’s been superb,” Johnson began. “He’s had a really good pre-season and I think he’s been Championship-class at least since the start of the season,” he concluded.
That was a number of years ago but the sentiment has remained. Mark Cooper commented last year: “He’s a top, top player and should be playing at a much higher level. He’s at least a seven and a half out of ten each week.
“He’s a Championship player and if I was a Championship manager, he’d be one of the first players I would take.”
Like Leadbitter, Winchester possesses the ability to gently keep things ticking over. His passing success rate is north of 85% while he’s strong in the tackle, producing two successful challenges per game for Forest Green this season.
With Sunderland’s options consistently dwindling, Johnson could do far worse than turning to the midfielder this weekend. He simply has to be unleashed in the starting XI during the run-in.