Sunderland v Stoke match analysis

Jozy Altidore in action last night
Jozy Altidore in action last night
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ALL RIGHT. Decent. Not bad. OK.

Sunderland are becoming a tiresome tale of middle-of-the-road adjectives this season.

In no game have the Black Cats been terrible. In no game have they been world-beaters.

Gus Poyet always envisaged that the visit of Stoke would be a close affair; separated by the odd goal.

But when it mattered, Sunderland couldn’t find that extra spark or that extra moment of ruthlessness to turn the game in their favour. Again.

It’s a pattern which needs to grind to a halt because it’s costing Sunderland Premier League points and last night, cost them the chance of a return to Wembley.

There wasn’t a great deal between the sides, but a Stoke outfit who constantly threatened on the counter-attack, simply proved to be more ruthless in front of goal, even if it was their left-back doing the finishing.

Admittedly, Marc Muniesa received a helping hand on both goals, but he unleashed two thunderous shots.

Sunderland’s players could do with taking note. That’s been a familiar tale not just this season, not just last season, but for several years.

A League Cup exit swings the pendulum further towards the start of this season being a distinctly mediocre one.

Yet perversely, that could all change with a win against Swansea.

It’s why snap judgements should be avoided at all costs in these early exchanges.

But have any of the seven fresh faces introduced last night done enough to make the starting XI against a Swansea outfit who cannot be under-estimated?

Well, for some of those rested - Lee Cattermole, Wes Brown and Vito Mannone - their presence was missed. They will surely return.

However, there certainly was food for thought.

Poyet has always maintained that the battle between his strikers will be a black and white decision this season.

He who scores, wins.

In that respect, the end of Jozy Altidore’s 10-month goal drought in a Sunderland shirt was welcome news for both Poyet and the American himself.

There was a mooted celebration from Altidore as he netted only his third goal in red and white, but the £7million frontman desperately needed to score early on this season after such a torrid time last time around.

It will surely have done him the world of good.

Altidore had few opportunities to open his legs and run with the ball at his feet, as he likes to do. This was predictably more of an arm-wrestling battle with Potters centre-halves Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross.

But the goal, when Altidore collected Billy Jones’ square pass and found the bottom corner on the turn, was a smart one.

When neither Connor Wickham or Steven Fletcher have found the net in the Premier League this season, Poyet’s repeated adage about goal tallies deciding the selection battle may ring true.

Jordi Gomez must surely also come into Poyet’s thinking, particularly against opposition such as Swansea when ball retention will be all-important.

The Spaniard was an elegant presence in the middle of the park - complementing the renewed energy of Jack Rodwell - and he should have set up a second goal for the Black Cats, but Will Buckley couldn’t make the most of the chance.

And the forward runs of Jones, when moved to his favoured right-back role during the second half, have to be under consideration too.

Santiago Vergini, Jones’ rival for the right-back spot, picked out the former West Brom man with a couple of superb defence-splitting passes when he was moved to centre-half after the break.

Vergini’s distribution and ability to bring the ball out from the back ensures he cannot be overlooked as a central defensive option this season, even if his best displays for Sunderland have come at right-back.

But Jones has the ability to get behind a defence. There aren’t many Sunderland players doing that currently.

Stoke did that effectively throughout the first half and Sunderland could have few complaints at entering the interval level.

Mark Hughes’ men had already shown they were a threat on the counter through the pace of Mame Biram Diouf, Oussama Assaidi and Marko Arnautovic, and conceding the opener didn’t distract them from that ploy.

Certainly, it provided food for thought for the Premier League meeting between the two sides in 10 days time, that this Potters side now has more subtle weapons than aerial warfare.