Lee Johnson reveals why Thorben Hoffmann could be key to his Sunderland plans

Sunderland have focused on their counterattacking play this week as Lee Johnson looks to build on a hugely encouraging start to the League One campaign.

Sunderland boss Lee Johnson
Sunderland boss Lee Johnson

The Black Cats travel to Fleetwood Town on Saturday afternoon top of the table, and with fans enthused by the early signs following a significant summer overhaul.

Johnson's side faced a difficult final 15 minutes against Accrington Stanley as they closed out a 2-1 lead, having missed a number of chances to extend their lead further.

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Before focusing on preparations for Simon Grayson' s side at the end of the week, being more ruthless on the break has been a key focus for the coaching team.

"Earlier this week we had a big theme on counterattacking," he said.

"I didn't feel our counterattacking was strong enough and could have seen us home and drier earlier.

"There's a lot of work that goes into that.

"We are still building this team and the cohesion and we hope that as that builds, it lends itself to maximising these chances and allowing all of us a bit of an easier ride in the last 20 minutes."

A key part of developing that counter-attacking threat has been a shift in emphasis from the club's goalkeepers.

Johnson worked closely with Lee Burge and Anthony Patterson in developing a more bold style of play through pre-season, and that was accelerated by the introduction of Thorben Hoffmann last Saturday.

Hoffmann endured a challenging debut and while Johnson is clear that he will continue to face competition, he also pointed towards some encouraging aspects of his game.

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Explaining his decision to pick Hoffmann, he said: "I think to be honest, I wanted to see what we've got.

"There's a lot of new players here and we learned a lot, for example, from that Blackpool game.

"We've got strong competition in every position, including in goal.

"It's early on in the season and we need to know what we've got. Ideally, all that recruitment would be done in pre-season and you use those games to work on what you've got.

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"But Thorben was keen to play, and I think the risk was more that he had only met the international players the day before, two of which were the centre-halves playing in front of him.

"We've really tried to hone in on that this week as much as possible.

"It's something that we try to coach all our goalkeepers on, because we want them to be bold," he added.

"Listen, our goalkeepers are going to make mistakes this year. All goalkeepers do and the reaction is very important.

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"Whether they come for it and drop it, or come for it, claim it and set off the counter, it's the way we want to play.

"There were two or three situations in particular last Saturday when Thorben caught it, got to the edge of the box at a real tempo and we'd switched off with 1-v-1 and half the pitch in front of us. With the players we've got, those are good odds for us.

"It's all a part of everyone getting to know each other and build cohesion.

"But we'll encourage bold goalkeeping and having quick, bold counter-attacking options."