LEE JOHNSON has tweaked Sunderland’s training schedule to address some of the issues that led to his side’s slump before the start of the international break, and is confident he will elicit a reaction that will enable his players to “stamp their authority” on League One.

The Black Cats head into this afternoon’s home game with Ipswich Town sitting in seventh position in the table, eight points adrift of top spot, after a run of three successive league defeats.

They have at least one game in hand on all of the sides above them in the table, but their recent form has nevertheless been a source of major concern, with Johnson conceding teams had “worked out how to play” against the Black Cats and acknowledging his players’ struggles against physically-imposing opposition.

Made with Flourish

Sunderland’s head coach has used the international break to address some of those issues, and is confident his work on the training ground will have a positive effect, starting with today’s game against an Ipswich side that have lost just one of their last 11 matches in all competitions.

“It’s my job to find solutions,” said Johnson. “Mainly, it’s about supporting – supporting the players and finding areas we can improve. It’s giving my expertise and coaching, and I’d like to think skills, to help them, whether it be mastering the dark arts, dropping earlier, recognising a situation developing earlier, other players helping that individual.

“With the young players we’ve got, particularly down the left in Dennis (Cirkin) and Callum (Doyle), if they were the finished article, one would still be at Tottenham and the other would be playing for Man City. That’s part of our journey.

“What I would say from my experience in moments like this, is that when you actually come through this period, as a player and as a team, it doesn’t half make you stronger. There’s clearly talent within our squad, we know that and believe that, and I think we can snuff out anything that has caused us problems relatively quickly.

“Yes, we can change the personnel, yes, we can change the shape. But, for me, the process over this last couple of weeks has been making sure the individuals are right in terms of the body and the mind, and bringing that feeling back round so we can pick an XI that can cohesively play a really big and important game.”

Crucially, Johnson has been able to use the last two weeks to get some of his key players back to peak fitness. Ross Stewart has had an injection to cure the shoulder problem that had been troubling him since last month’s Carabao Cup win at QPR, and the Scotsman is now pain-free.

Aiden McGeady was struggling with a hamstring injury when he was sent off in last month’s 5-1 defeat at Rotherham, and Johnson admits he and his medical staff have gone “back to the drawing board” in order to restore the Irishman back to full fitness.

“In the Rotherham game, Geads played, unbeknownst to us, with a hamstring injury,” said Johnson. “I wouldn’t say his athletic performance was up to the levels that Aiden McGeady at 35, or any other age, can produce. In certain areas of the game, that cost us. Probably in any footballer’s head, they’re being brave by playing through because their intention is to produce for the team. For whatever reason, it ended up having a detrimental effect in that game, and we’ve had to go back to the drawing board to try to rebuild Geads physically, and make sure he’s in a good place.

“Now, he is in a good place, he’s moving well. Certainly, looking at him, he’s going to be an important player for us, particularly moving into these next 11 games that we’re really focused on to stamp our authority on the division.”

While McGeady’s situation has improved in the last fortnight, Lee Burge has suffered a hip flexor issue that has forced Johnson to recall Anthony Patterson from his loan spell at Notts County. Thorben Hoffman will start against Ipswich, with Patterson set to be on the bench.

“We’ve recalled Patto,” confirmed Johnson. “Lee has a hip problem at the moment. He actually had it at the start of the season as well. We wouldn’t expect him to be out for too long – it’s probably a seven-to-ten day injury – so we’ll just reassess when we have a decision to make on the back end of that.”

Sunderland (probable, 4-2-3-1): Hoffman; Winchester, Flanagan, Doyle, Cirkin; Evans, O’Nien; Embleton, Neil, McGeady; Stewart.