Simon Grayson promises proactive Sunderland as he sets out tactical blueprint

Bury FC 2-3 Sunderland FC, Gigg Lane Bury 07-07-207. Picture by FRANK REID
Bury FC 2-3 Sunderland FC, Gigg Lane Bury 07-07-207. Picture by FRANK REID
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Simon Grayson offered an insight into his tactical blueprint for Sunderland even in the earliest hours of his reign.

At his Stadium of Light unveiling, Grayson offered no apologies for the fact that he would be pragmatic at all times in search of points. It would be about finding a way to win, no matter who the players, what the system.

Sunderland fans, he pointed out, might prefer a lung-busting run or a big challenge to a Cruyff turn anyway. In a good, typically Yorkshire soundbite, he pointed that if he saw any of his defenders attempting one of those, he would boo them from the dugout himself.

Changing shape from game to game has been a hallmark of his managerial career so far and it will be no different on Wearside.

There has been no sight of a five-man defence yet but that is only a matter of time, while in three games we have already seen a 4-4-2, a 4-1-4-1, a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1.

Very subtle changes, but ones designed to keep opponents guessing.

For all the talk of pragmatism, however, Grayson is hoping that preparing his squad for Championship football can lead to better fare on offer for the Sunderland support.

Key to that will be more energetic play off the ball, more dynamism on it. Adding flair and pace to the wide areas is a key priority, with Aiden McGeady swiftly targeted.

“What you’ve got here is players who have probably played 90% of their games in the Premiership, and it is a different game there, it is a bit slower.

“You look at Sunderland last year, they probably spent most of their time without possession, so without it they’re sort of just slotting into holes and gaps to stop the opposition,” he said.

“This year I don’t want to play like that, I want to show we’ve got mobile players who will get up against people, win individual battles and second balls, because that’s the nature of the Championship. Our players have to be mentally right for a tough slog, getting ready for the higher tempo.”

Even if Livingston did not offer the highest quality attacking threat on Wednesday night, it will still have come as a relief to Grayson that his side was able to keep its first clean sheet of the pre-season programme.

The opening games against Bury had seen some excellent attacking play in patches but also some very sloppy defending.

The Black Cats looked much improved under the high ball at the Tony Macaroni arena and that will be a key area for Grayson to continue working on in the coming weeks.

Though the Championship has undergone numerous changes in recent seasons, with the likes of Jaap Stam, David Wagner and Slavisa Jokanovic changing the profile of sides and lifting the techincal quality, coping with the physicality is crucial.

As Grayson prepares his recently Premier League players for the new season, it is the message he will be drilling over and over again.

“It is something we have worked on and made the players aware of, in the Premiership most of the time it is in front of you, it is nice, attractive football. Its not that you don’t get that in the Championship but you will get different styles, people will ask questions,” he said.

“At QPR you’ll have 6ft 5in Matt Smith, you’ll have quick strikers getting down the sides, you have to be aware of every eventuality. It is a different mindset and a different game.”

Captain Lee Cattermole, after 12 years in the top tier, has called on his team-mates to trust Grayson’s instincts to make headway this season.

Grayson will stick to his trust template to try and overachieve again.

He’ll be hoping, however, that working with a better calibre of player means that even though there will be ugly wins, watching Sunderland will be a prospect to excite fans again.