CHRIS YOUNG: Short must make a decision on Sunderland boss

Sunderland's Adam Johnson fires a shot past Phil Jones.
Sunderland's Adam Johnson fires a shot past Phil Jones.
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ENGLAND assistant Ray Lewington cast covetous eyes towards Adnan Januzaj from the Stadium of Light directors’ box.

It would take a bureaucratic miracle for Belgium-born Januzaj to actually represent England, yet the quality of his two second-half goals to keep stricken Sunderland magnetised to the foot of the Premier League table will only have intensified the FA’s advances towards the 18-year-old.

International recognition for anyone in red and white is the most distant of priorities for Sunderland at present though.

It is the tall American figure who sat 20 yards from Lewington on the padded seats of corporate hospitality that all eyes are centred on over the next fortnight.

The magnitude of appointing a successor to Paolo Di Canio has clearly weighed heavily on Ellis Short.

More than a fortnight after the axe was swung on the Italian, Sunderland are still not thought to be on the verge of making a final decision over who will face what looks an increasingly daunting task.

Short has taken his time and pondered the options on an appointment which will have such huge ramifications for both the football club and his investment, if it proves to be the wrong one.

What chance of Short opting for the status quo though?

The Black Cats owner has seen both of caretaker boss Kevin Ball’s Premier League games in charge in the flesh, and there has certainly been an upturn in standards under the ex-Sunderland skipper’s stewardship.

But the outcome has been the same.

Had Ball presided over a win or even a draw against Liverpool and Manchester United, his case would have been significantly strengthened.

Given the nature of the opposition, that was always going to be a tall order, yet the run of successive league defeats has still stretched to five.

A losing habit has germinated on Wearside and it will take a mighty effort from whoever occupies the dug-out on a long-term basis to reverse that decline.

Just because Sunderland have raised their game in nothing-to-lose encounters against two of the division’s heavyweights, it doesn’t necessarily equate that they will perform to a similar standard when the weight of expectation is on their shoulders either.

Even at this stage of the season, Sunderland’s points position looks perilous.

The Black Cats will need to win their next three games just to average a point per match.

A run similar to the one Martin O’Neill enjoyed when he first took charge is going to be needed for Sunderland to climb out of this mess.

There have certainly been plenty of positives and an element of common sense from Ball’s two-week stewardship though.

Ball has galvanised a dressing room that had been fractured by Di Canio and there is a clear bond with the caretaker boss, epitomised by the return of Lee Cattermole.

The Teessider has shrugged off his lack of pre-season action and Di Canio’s cold shoulder by injecting the bite that was so blatantly missing from Sunderland’s midfield.

Cattermole has set the tone for the brand of football Ball wants to play.

He patrolled ruthlessly in front of the back four, breaking up Manchester United’s approach play and darting towards Wayne Rooney whenever the England international dared to drop deep in a bid to dictate proceedings.

Cattermole’s eagerness to press and harry the champions proved contagious and Sunderland’s phenomenal work-rate in the opening 45 minutes thwarted United offensively and preyed upon their defensive jitters at the other end.

Using Cattermole in a three-man midfield has also proved to be an astute move from Ball.

Sunderland were far too open in Di Canio’s adventurous 4-4-2 – or 4-2-4 as he often referred to it – and an extra man in the middle has made them more resolute.

It suits the personnel available too.

Craig Gardner is a far more effective central midfielder in a three, when he has the licence to bomb forward in support of the lone striker.

The Brummie ensured that Jozy Altidore was not cast adrift in the thankless task up front, as had been the case on occasions against Liverpool.

Once Gardner came off with a knock early in the second half on Saturday, Sunderland’s attacking threat dropped a notch.

Changing the formation is not the only thing Ball has done well.

He recognised the lack of pace in central defence which had been exposed against Liverpool and re-introduced Valentin Roberge alongside John O’Shea.

Roberge looked comfortable against United’s striking riches and his confidence spread to Keiren Westwood, who proved more dominating from crosses than he has been all season.

Ball has sparked Emanuele Giaccherini into life too and had it not been for a truly world-class save from David De Gea – undoubtedly the defining point in the encounter – the Italian international would have netted his third goal in as many games.

Giaccherini complements graft with his artistry, yet even he couldn’t last the ferocious pace of Sunderland’s pressing game.

That has been a common factor in both of Ball’s two league outings, with fatigue nullifying the Wearsiders’ approach in the second half.

United finally began to find some space after the break as Sunderland’s chasing subsided, while there were costly lapses in concentration too – Ki Sung-Yeung switching off as Januzaj strode forward to net the equaliser.

Once Januzaj had grabbed that goal and volleyed home a screamer six minutes later, Sunderland looked a spent force.

What cannot be questioned though is Sunderland’s commitment in both games under Ball.

Does that prompt Short to hand Ball the reins until the end of the month, end of 2013, the end of the season or longer?

Or does Sunderland’s league position require a candidate familiar with the grind of first-team management?

There is no obvious answer, but over the next fortnight, Short must find one.

Twitter @youngsunecho