Analysis - Sunderland need to strengthen at the back, as well as up front, before the deadline

Safc v Exeter Watmore
Safc v Exeter Watmore
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For the last month or so, Dick Advocaat’s priorities in the transfer market have been pretty concrete and understandable.

The Sunderland boss has lusted after a targetman capable of leading the line with a physical presence. An upgraded Danny Graham if you like.

And there has evidently been a quest to land an attacking midfielder capable of chipping in with half-a-dozen or so goals a season; hence the tried and failed attempts to sign Stewart Downing, Leroy Fer and Jonathan de Guzman.

But despite signing three defenders earlier this summer, it is Sunderland’s susceptibility at the back which has been the chief cause for concern over the opening four games after Costel Pantilimon has picked the ball out of his net an alarming 11 times.

Everyone knew of Patrick van Aanholt’s defensive vulnerability and it wasn’t the biggest surprise in the world that it was exposed so savagely by Norwich and Leicester.

Yet worryingly, van Aanholt was probably the most solid of the back-line against Exeter, in a ‘Where do you start?’ kind of game to sum up.

John O’Shea and Sebastian Coates looked like they need a copy of a ‘Beginners Guide to Defending’ while all three of Exeter’s goals came down Sunderland’s right.

Full debutant Adam Matthews can clearly deliver a decent cross, but he looked defensively vulnerable during pre-season and wasn’t any better last night.

It’s no wonder Sunderland made an enquiry for Manchester City’s Belgian international Jason Denayer last week, albeit the 20-year-old has held talks with Marseille and Galatasary this week, and it would equally be no surprise if there was a new defender that arrived before next Tuesday’s deadline.

Perversely, while Advocaat wants to strengthen the attacking third of the pitch, that was where Sunderland looked strongest last night.

Jermain Defoe was one of the few to look sharp over the opening two games and he is making a more than decent fist of playing away from his natural central striker role.

Defoe is such an intelligent player that he is already learning to drift inside from the left into areas where he can find the back of the net - the finish for the second goal of his hat-trick in particular was a bit special.

Jack Rodwell picked up where he left off against Swansea with a positive contribution, while Under-21 pair Duncan Watmore and Lynden Gooch almost stole the show with the energy and hunger they showed coming off the bench.

For all Advocaat appears to have reservations over using Watmore prominently, it’s becoming harder and harder for the ex-Rangers boss to ignore the 21-year-old.

However, Watmore should by rights, have been introduced when the game was safe, not when it was still hanging in the balance.

It should have been pipe and slippers time after just 15 minutes, as Sunderland hit the Grecians with a quick-fire double.

First, Jermain Defoe slipped in Patrick van Aanholt with a lovely ball down the left-hand channel and the left-back pulled it back to Danny Graham, whose shot was blocked, before Jack Rodwell smashed the rebound low into the net.

Then, Defoe got on the scoresheet himself after he was picked out by Rodwell’s lovely ball over the top.

Defoe knocked the ball upwards and forwards with his first touch, but as keeper Bobby Olejnik hesitated, the striker was able to bring it under control, steady himself and smash it into the net.

Job done... surely?

Oh no, that would be far too straightforward.

Coates thought he’d catch 40 winks to Danny Butterfield’s ball over the top and allowed Emmanuele Oyeleke to ghost in behind him, bring it under control and place the ball calmly into the far corner.

It was just the start of the troubles for Sunderland’s central defensive pair, albeit they weren’t helped by the wayward positioning of Matthews, with Exeter’s next two goals both stemming from left-wing crosses.

Lee Holmes was allowed to deliver for the 32nd minute equaliser, with David Wheeler getting above O’Shea far too easily and heading past the static Costel Pantilimon.

Defoe looked to have got Sunderland back on track when he brought Lee Cattermole’s pass under control immaculately, before beating Olejnik at his near post with a half-volley from 15 yards.

But yet again, Sunderland were undone by some shambolic defending.

Holmes’ hopeful cross was headed down by Wheeler, before Tom McCready swept it home.

The second half began in inauspicious fashion for Sunderland, when substitute Steven Fletcher and Matthews went down the tunnel prematurely with concussion and an ankle injury respectively.

But fortunately, Sunderland benefited from some poor defending themselves as they regained the advantage just after the hour, when Rodwell matter-of-factly headed home Seb Larsson’s left wing corner.

That seemed to knock the stuffing out of Exeter, and Sunderland went on to add another couple.

Watmore chased onto a lost cause from O’Shea’s ball forwards, got to the ball ahead of Olejnik and knocked it into the empty net.

Defoe then completed his hat-trick, when he scuffed Seb Larsson’s right wing cross into the far corner.

Six goals at home, what more can you ask? Well, some defending for a start.