Phil Smith: Simon Grayson’s faith in Aiden McGeady a calculated and exciting gamble

McGeady starred against Norwich City
McGeady starred against Norwich City
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Aiden McGeady wasn’t expecting the pass from Lee Cattermole.

That was clear even before the winger admitted it post-match. No matter. McGeady scored a hatful of these goals at Preston, the touch and shot so instinctive, giving him the precious second advantage on the closing defenders.

Good players, in attack at least, are always easy to spot. Team-mates will look for them when under pressure, passing to them even if they are closely marked.

Here, Cattermole had the typically selfless clarity, as well as the footballing intelligence he is not credited for, to spot that as the ball dropped on the volley, McGeady had a far better chance of the pulling off the remarkable.

In a flash, the game had changed.

It was a wonderful passage of play, from the burst to win the corner in the first place, to the goal, to the stunning cross that made it 3-0 soon after.

Playing like this, McGeady will have to get used to those unexpected passes.

At £250,000, the 31-year-old was a gamble clearly worth taking, but for Simon Grayson the gamble is not so much a financial one as a tactical one.

Last season, the Irishman helped transform his Preston side from resilient, but limited, to genuine play-off contenders.

In that side giving McGeady a free role was a no-brainer but in a Sunderland side where the shape of the rest of the team is as of yet nowhere near as disciplined, it is a risk.

The left flank has been a defensive weak spot for the Black Cats in the opening two games, with both Johnny Russell and Yanic Wildschut finding a lot of time and space on the ball to break the defensive lines.

Brendan Galloway has had nothing like the help George Honeyman has offered Billy Jones on the other side of the pitch, but the benefits were obvious in the second half at Carrow Road.

McGeady barely had a kick in the first half, with Sunderland invariably going long to James Vaughan when they did retrieve the ball.

As their confidence grew, they were able to find McGeady more regularly and in more dangerous positions. From there, his dribbling speed and ability to use both feet makes him an unpredictable opponents for defenders.

It makes him perfect for the inside left role, a position that has been Sunderland’s main creative putput under Grayson from the very beginning of pre-season, even before McGeady’s arrival.

Of course, it was Wahbi Khazri then taking on the mantle, and the lack of disquiet at his inclusion in the team says much about McGeady and Honeyman’s impact on the side.

Grayson has found a simple solution to the conundrum that brought David Moyes so much criticism. In Khazri he has taken the decision to drop a popular player, but crucially, has got those picked instead to perform and offer a visible structure to the team.

As with the rest of the side, there is little to be gained from getting carried away with McGeady’s early flourish.

Nevertheless, how refreshing to see a Sunderland side boast a player of real flair, unpredictability, set-piece excellence and with excellent long-range shooting.

There will be errors in possession, tackles missed, but none that will be remembered as vividly as the moments of superb individual quality.

It has the potential to be a quite extraordinary bargain.