Sunderland slipped to yet another defeat, this time against Cardiff City as they dropped into the bottom three of the Championship for the first time in over a decade. The Black Cats have yet to win at home this season and this is also a statistic that goes back to December 2016. Sunderland and their manager have much to do if they are to avoid successive relegations.
Positives Hard to Find as Sunderland Drop into Relegation Zone
Sunderland began the season reasonably well; a good performance in a 1-1 draw in their opening game had fans believing that this team would give a decent showing this season. This was then followed by an away victory at Norwich City and a draw at Sheffield Wednesday. However, this proved to be a false dawn as five defeats in six league games have followed. They were also easily knocked out of the Carabao Cup 3-0 at Everton.
Lack of Strength in Depth
Simon Grayson’s side have shown that a strong squad is key in the Championship. Unfortunately, they do not have this luxury. Various injuries have left the team lacking and it has shown on the pitch. They have become too easy to beat and although there are glimpses of quality, it is not enough when facing seasoned Championship sides.
Change in Tactics
Sunderland began the season playing a versatile 4-4-2 formation, using two strikers and attacking whenever possible. Unfortunately, injuries have persuaded manager Simon Grayson to alter his formation, preferring five defenders recently. On recent showings this has been a mistake. Results have been poor and performances have been worse. For example, against Sheffield United at home, the Black Cats failed to have an attempt on target until they scored in added on time. Against Cardiff City however, Grayson did see sense and changed the formation after going a goal behind. Sadly it failed to change the end result.
A low not Seen for Years
After the 2-1 defeat against Cardiff, Sunderland find themselves in the bottom three of the Championship for the first time in over ten years. Once again they fell behind and once again it left the team and understandably their long suffering fans deflated. Wonder goals aren’t the norm at the Stadium of Light, this may make conceding that little easier, unfortunately it is all too often soft goals and defensive errors which cost Sunderland.
Any Improvement Countered
As today proved, Sunderland can cause the opposition problems. They got back into the game but almost immediately gave away a soft penalty to fall behind again. If the self destruct button is to be pressed at the first sign of improvement, then they have an uphill battle to stay in the Championship.
Home Record a Major Worry
Sunderland have failed to win at home since December 2016. This is a very unwelcome record and problem. To survive and to challenge at the right end of the Championship table, home form must be good. The team and fans are nervous before any home game and away sides are taking advantage of this. Grayson and the players may say all the right things in public but in private it will be on their minds. A win, no matter how it comes, must happen. Good performances can be worked on afterwards.
Positives are There
Going forward there are a few positives that Simon Grayson and fans can cling too. Once Grayson saw his error and switched to 4-4-2, the team looked more comfortable and began to play as a team and create chances. Bryan Oviedo’s return to the side has been a plus. He has replaced loanee Brendan Galloway who looked uncomfortable and out of form and the side has looked stronger on the left side as a result. American youngster Lynden Gooch returned to the side and his pace and ability to run at defenders caused problems. He won his side a penalty and coolly dispatched it too.
Injured Players Returning
Along with Gooch returning, Sunderland will have several other players coming back in the future. Aiden McGeady was only fit enough to start on the bench today; his creativity and eye for goal could be key. Winger Callum McManaman and midfielder Jonny Williams both missed this weekends defeat but should be available again soon. Duncan Watmore, who has been out for nine months, has returned to training and has featured for the Under 23’s of late. The England Under 21 international has been a big miss. His pace, directness and eye for goal could prove invaluable to the Black Cats. Striker Lewis Grabban and midfielder Paddy McNair are also working towards a return.
The Last Word
Although positives are there, Sunderland are in trouble. Their home form is woeful at best and confidence is low on and off the pitch. Players returning will be a boost and the sooner Simon Grayson can get a full strength team on the pitch the better. Two away games now follow and decent results in these will make things look a lot brighter; however, you will be hard pressed to find a Sunderland supporter who is confident at the moment, and that in itself is a sad thing.
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