Wise Men Say: Best so far, but changes were made too late – and were the wrong ones

Yann M'Vila and Patrick van Aanholt combine to thwart Spurs' Ryan Mason
Yann M'Vila and Patrick van Aanholt combine to thwart Spurs' Ryan Mason
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Firstly, the positives; this was the best Sunderland performance of the season so far.

The team was well organised, cohesive and coherently shaped. None of the starters had poor games, with Yann M’Vila and Younes Kaboul, in particular, putting in superb performances.

Dick Advocaat now has a smattering of real quality throughout his squad, aided greatly by some shrewd looking new signings, including the aforementioned M’Vila and Kaboul.

Jeremain Lens was bright, quick and exciting in wide areas, while Fabio Borini and Ola Toivonen offered something different to the players they replaced.

The front three, with Toivonen offering height and presence in behind, were fluid, inventive and dangerous. Toivonen’s presence helped Jermain Defoe, who put in a sterling performance as the lone striker.

Unfortunately, Defoe did just about everything but score, and he will be desperately disappointed with his failure to bury a one on one with Hugo Lloris.

The chance came as a result of a lovely through ball from Lens, typical of Sunderland when they were at their best in the first half.

Advocaat’s men were a real threat on the break at times and the Stadium of Light finally has a team with pace and energy in the attacking third.

Arguably, a better side than Spurs might have punished Sunderland more readily.

There is definitely an issue with teams getting in behind full-backs Billy Jones and Patrick van Aanholt. Neither were poor individually, with Jones having his best game for some time, but their continued isolation is an issue.

Spurs were lacking in the sort of pace and creativity that would have allowed them to make better use of some very decent situations in the Sunderland box.

Advocaat’s substitutions played a significant part in his side’s undoing. Changes needed to be made, with Borini, Toivonen and the returning Jordi Gomez all looking exhausted.

When he did switch things, it was too late and the men he brought on were the wrong ones. Lee Cattermole’s introduction was baffling. The game was finely balanced and there for the taking, so why bring on a defensive player who rarely scores or creates chances?

Although Jack Rodwell eventually made his way onto the pitch, surely he would have been a better option.

For all his faults, he has goals in him and when he did come on, was unlucky to see a shot hit the bar. He did, however, also fail to track Ryan Mason for Spurs’ winning goal.

Duncan Watmore was also brought on and while he has looked lively in previous outings, a tight game against a well drilled defence wasn’t the match for him.

Ultimately, Sunderland’s substitutes were unable to get up to speed with the game, leaving question marks over their preparation.

Easy to say with hindsight perhaps, but games are won and lost on such fine margins and this isn’t the first time Dick Advocaat has made dubious changes, often too late in the game.

However, it shouldn’t detract from an otherwise positive performance, in which Sunderland finally started to look like a Premier League team worthy of the name.

It’s just a shame that the now typical stuttering start to a season has preceded it, leaving us to play catch-up once again.

The Wise Men Say podcast is available every Monday, with SAFC debate from a variety of guests and post-match reaction. You can stream it direct from wisemensay.co.uk or subscribe to it on iTunes.