Jack Rodwell admits Sunderland still face a steep defensive learning curve after shipping 11 goals in their opening four games.
Sunderland conceded three times against League Two Exeter in Tuesday night’s Capital One Cup second round tie, with midfielder Rodwell describing the goals conceded by Dick Advocaat’s side as “pretty awful”.
Despite Sunderland looking far more potent than they were at the same stage of last season, the Black Cats are yet to keep a clean sheet this time around, with Saturday’s Premier League trip to Aston Villa offering the final opportunity to break that deadlock before the two-week international break.
Rodwell told the Echo: “There were some things to take from the Exeter game confidence-wise, but there’s still loads to work on defensively.
“We need to do that as a team, not just the back four, because it’s easy to point fingers.
“But we scored six goals, so we can look at the positives as well.
“At half-time, there were a few raised voices because no-one was happy with the defensive side of the game.
“There’s a lot to work on still, but we got through – that’s the main thing.
“We went 2-0 up and you’re hoping we can cruise through this, but, defensively, it was pretty awful.
“But we managed to come out in the second half and get the job done, which was the main thing.”
Sunderland at least managed to safely progress into the next round of the League Cup, where they will face a home tie against Rodwell’s former employers Manchester City.
Rodwell netted twice against Exeter after producing one of his best displays in a Sunderland shirt in last weekend’s draw against Swansea.
“I played well against Swansea, and felt a bit leggy against Exeter,” said the 24-year-old.
“But I’m pleased with my last two games and got a couple of goals to my name too.”
Rodwell was not the only player to impress against the Grecians, with Under-21 pair Duncan Watmore and Lynden Gooch both helping Sunderland to victory in the second half after making an impact off the bench.
“Duncan’s pace in behind and Gooch’s strength on the wing, yes, they added something and you felt that on the pitch,” added Rodwell.
“They added that energy. They want to impress obviously and they’ll run a bit more.
“But I’ve been really impressed with Duncan when he’s come on and I think Gooch was outstanding as well, which is good for the future.”