Cats Eye View: Sunderland boss needs to settle on team and system and consider dropping Lamine Kone
When Simon Grayson took charge at the Stadium of Light he spoke of his ambition of managing in the Premier League, aiming to achieve his dream with Sunderland.
Those hopes have been put firmly on ice after a shocking start that sees Sunderland third-bottom of the Championship.
Early days. Relatively. Time to turn it around. Absolutely.
But those relegation warning signs, flashing a few weeks back, are now screaming in the face of everyone connected to Sunderland.
A second successive relegation is a very real possibility unless Grayson can spark this side into life and settle on a system and team that reaps performances and points.
Grayson will be drawing on his vast experience yet so far little he has tried has worked.
The 47-year-old has tinkered with his team, system, and tactics in recent weeks yet Sunderland haven’t managed a league win since Norwich City away.
That result yielded hopes of a brighter future. We should have known better.
Grayson named an unchanged line-up for the opening four league games, a spell which saw the team draw with Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday and beat Norwich.
Injuries since haven’t helped. Until the Ipswich Town thrashing, Grayson had been unable to start summer signings Aiden McGeady and Callum McManaman in the same side.
But other changes were made for the sake of making changes.
Clearly, Grayson is yet to determine either his best team or his best system. A look at the form guide will quickly confirm that. Worrying after 10 games.
Robbin Ruiter was a surprise exclusion, chopping and changing the goalkeeper doesn’t help breed confidence at the back.
Ruiter commands his area far more than Jason Steele does, whether he comes and collects the ball or punches it clear. Steele doesn’t assert his authority in the same way.
Not having a settled No.1 means the defenders in front have to adapt their approach depending on who is in goal.
Playing a back three hasn’t worked, with time precious in a busy schedule the players haven’t had enough time to work on it.
Grayson needs to stick with a back four, but consider dropping Lamine Kone. His performances have dipped alarmingly over the past 12-months.
Dreadful against Ipswich Town, he was dominated in the air, regularly lost track of his man, Martyn Waghorn punishing the defence with his movement.
So much more is expected of Kone, who has the potential to be one of the best defenders in the Championship.
The injury to Marc Wilson will be assessed and could lead to Kone being given a stay of execution, not that Wilson has fared any better.
A major disappointment, Wilson’s performances so far littered with errors.
It has only taken 10 games, but the annual call for veteran John O’Shea to be recalled in order to bring some leadership and communication has begun.
Clearly the 36-year-old’s best days are behind him, but he can’t do any worse than Kone, Wilson or Tyias Browning have managed.
Whatever Grayson decides to do defensively he needs to stick with it – give the players time to build partnerships and confidence if they are to stand any chance of forming a cohesive defensive unit.
The return of McGeady and McManaman to action is a welcome one, but elsewhere goal-shy Sunderland still have problems all over the pitch.
Grayson, with more than 600 games under his managerial belt, left the relative comfort of Preston for the Sunderland challenge.
If he didn’t know it before, the weight of that challenge will now firmly be weighing down on him.
Never mind Premier League ambitions, the way things currently stand Grayson will do well to keep Sunderland in the Championship.
Grayson and the players need to turn this around sharply. Starting with Preston North End.
Another defeat before a two-week international break doesn’t bare thinking about.