Phil Smith’s analysis: Determined Sunderland keep up positive signs, with show of defensive resilience

George Honeyman slots home Sunderland's opener at Sheffield Wednesday last night.
George Honeyman slots home Sunderland's opener at Sheffield Wednesday last night.
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In a word, the difference was control.

The difference between the superb win at Carrow Road, where Sunderland had little of the ball but all of the control.

And last night, when, for the final 20 minutes at the very least, they were on the ropes.

The Black Cats were fortunate to escape with a point, their unbeaten record just about intact.

If Norwich had been tame on the ball, slow to get going and rarely stretching the Sunderland defence, Sheffield Wednesday were a very different proposition.

True, as Simon Grayson said, that his team had been comfortable until David Jones scored with a strike of quite breathtaking quality to level on 70 minutes.

Even in the first half, however, when Jason Steele was barely tested, the Owls were finding space and gaps between the lines.

If their midfield diamond had looked ill-fitting to begin with, winger Adam Reach at left-back and Ross Wallace on the right side of central midfield, their rotation and movement quickly became apparent.

Reach, in particular, caused Billy Jones problems throughout. Once the Owls’ goal came, the floodgates could have opened.

Having introduced a number of their attacking options from the bench, the hosts missed chance after chance in a frenetic conclusion.

That said much about where the two sides are at.

Sunderland, to their credit, have shown real resilience so far this season and to hang on, at the end of a seriously demanding period of games, gives them an unbeaten five-point start to the season that few would have predicted.

They have shown they will be competitive, tough to beat, and they have now gone to two of the toughest grounds in the league and taken four points – an achievement worthy of praise.

They remain a work in progress, nevertheless.

Wednesday may be frustrated by their failure to make any significant signings this summer, but the benefits of having a side that has grown together over a period of three seasons was obvious.

The instinctive movement, the way Barry Bannan was able to search for and find Gary Hooper with his long passing, all pointed to a side well-drilled and comfortable in their own skin.

Sunderland have put much in place already, but that poise will only come in time, particularly when it comes to their attacking play.

As well as time, there is no doubting that they also need more players.

That Wednesday ended the game on top should have come as no surprise given the number, and crucially the variety, of attackers that they can call upon.

As he had been against Derby, Sunderland boss Grayson was slow to make changes and that reflects the one-paced nature of his bench options.

Max Gradel has opted to join Toulouse, leaving the Cats at least one, probably two, forward players short of a squad that can be seriously considered as promotion contenders.

The problems Grayson has are ones he would have been content to be presented with after three games.

His team have proven themselves to be resilient, willing to implement his gameplan and not short of quality.

From set-pieces, too, they are a constant threat and that is a major positive as the season begins to pick up pace.

It was a point gained, and a return to the Stadium of Light – for Leeds’ visit on Saturday – will offer the chance to get back on the front foot.

So far, so good.