Only an overhaul of starting XI's spine will allow Chris Coleman to make Sunderland vision work

For most of those in attendance on Saturday, this will have been their first look at Chris Coleman's Sunderland.

Monday, 4th December 2017, 10:00 am
Chris Coleman. Picture by Frank Reid

The acute sense of deflation you could sense by the final whistle reflected the fact that the second half had been all too familiar.

Sunderland’s response to adversity was nowhere near good enough, their habit of self-destructing on home turf returning with Callum McManaman’s bizarre deicison to handle the ball inches from goal and, already booked, pick up a red card.

They conceded goals in a cluster, not staying in the game and their late rally could offer nothing more than a consolation goal.

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Tactically, new boss Coleman faces the same problems that have plagued a succession of managers before him.

Botched recruitment over a number of windows has built an injury-prone squad and one that lacks the pace to hurt teams. Players who should have been phased out are still key members of the starting XI.

Sunderland were left with a midfield two of Lee Cattermole and Darron Gibson for the second half and, unsurprisingly, it led to another game in which the Black Cats were overrun in that area.

Both have had good moments in Coleman’s three games so far, but only when protected by energetic players around them.

The first Reading goal was one that we have seen so often in recent seasons, Sunderland giving the ball away in an advanced area and then unable to prevent the counter-attack, with players not quick enough to recover and the opposition’s attackers finding space to cause damage.

It is this fundamental issue that explains why the return of Duncan Watmore and Paddy McNair was so keenly anticipated this season, the hope being that those two could emerge as leaders at this level and help replace the spine of the side with something more energetic.

At the moment, summer signings Aiden McGeady and Callum McManaman are compounding the problem rather than solving it, and the calls for Josh Maja and Joel Asoro to be given a run in the side, particularly at home, will only grow louder.

The fact of the matter is, as many have already pointed out, that Coleman can only make so much progress without significant work in the transfer market.

Nevertheless, there was much about the first-half performance, in particular, that stencilled out how the new manager will look to take his side out of trouble.

The steady, short passing approach marked a sea change from the direct tactics under Simon Grayson and, while there were some understandable frustrations with the lack of tempo in the first half, there were mitigating factors for that.

Coleman was determined not to be sucked into the dangerous ploy of going gung-ho after the high of last week’s win at Burton, giving Reading the space they needed to expose the Black Cats’ defensive shortcomings.

He will also hope that he can build the confidence of the players to the extent that they move it instinctively quicker and take more risks.

Again, he will also need new additions in the transfer market.

The most frustrating element of McManaman’s red card was that had he headed in Adam Matthews’ excellent cross, it would have been a total vindication of Coleman’s approach.

It had not been an exciting game, but, as at Burton, Sunderland stayed in it and were building a platform from which to take three points that would have transformed the mood inside the Stadium of Light.

Instead, supporters were left to bemoan the same old errors and the same old problems.

Coleman will need to overhaul the spine of his side to banish them once and for all.