How Sunderland’s Luke O’Nien and Dan Ballard frustrated Ellis Simms during Coventry City draw

Analysis after Sunderland’s hard-fought goalless draw against Coventry City at the CBS Arena.

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As Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray pointed out after his side’s goalless draw against Coventry, the game played out quite differently to the last time they visited the CBS Arena.

During February’s 2-1 defeat, the Black Cats dominated possession, recording 71 per cent, but were caught out on the counter attack by Mark Robins’ side. The same could be said about Sunderland’s first two league games this season, against Ipswich and Preston, which both ended in 2-1 defeats.

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Yet in their latest meeting with Coventry, it was the hosts who saw more of the ball in the first half (55 per cent before half-time), with Sunderland sitting deeper to soak up pressure.

That also brings its challenges, as Mowbray’s side had to work extremely hard out of possession, once again playing without a recognised centre-forward to give them an obvious outlet.

Coventry also produced some neat passing moves which almost cut Sunderland open, yet the visitors’ defence stood firm.

Centre-backs Luke O’Nien and Dan Ballard were particularly impressive against Coventry’s frontmen Ellis Simms and Matt Godden, regularly making interceptions and clearing crosses into the visitors’ box.

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According to Wyscout, Ballard made seven interceptions against The Sky Blues, with O’Nien making four. Ballard also won all three of his aerial duels in his own half, while O’Nien won both of his aerial battles, which both came inside the Black Cats’ penalty area.

As Sunderland fans know following his loan spell on Wearside last season, Simms can be a real handful. Still, the 22-year-old only really had one opportunity on the stroke of half-time, which goalkeeper Antony Patterson saved from a tight angle.

There was one moment in the second half when Simms’ frustration showed as he struggled to break free from O’Nien’s tight marking, giving his former teammate a push inside the Sunderland box.

Simms was then replaced by Haji Wright, who cost Coventry a reported £7.7million this summer, with 20 minutes remaining.

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Wright would go on to have the best chance of the game as the match became stretched in the closing stages, yet Patterson was alert once again.

The result marked Sunderland’s first clean sheet of the season following a strong defensive display.