Phil Smith's verdict: Average Sunderland frustrate but late response underlines one big positive

It was possible to feel two emotions leaving the Stadium of Light on Saturday afternoon.

Sunday, 18th November 2018, 10:58 am
Updated Sunday, 18th November 2018, 11:04 am
Jerome Sinclair goes close for Sunderland against Wycombe
Jerome Sinclair goes close for Sunderland against Wycombe

One was frustration at an opportunity missed and a slack performance out of step with the ruthless displays of late.

The second, a sense of perspective about where this underwhelming result sits in the wider picture of Sunderland’s season.

Jack Ross didn’t think his side were poor, but there is no argument that they have played much, much better at home.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

In the final third their clinical touch deserted them.

Time and time again the front four who have done so well for Sunderland this season took the wrong option, took just too long on the ball or simply failed to execute their final pass or shot.

Sunderland didn’t lose, though.

They rallied well to conceding a soft goal midway through the second half, at which point it would have been easy to think that it was just one those days.

Their equaliser was more than deserved and they came close to a winner on numerous occasions.

In the first half, even when the Black Cats were short of their best, Aiden McGeady missed a golden opportunity to put his side in front.

The unbeaten run has stretched to twelve games and the Black Cats did not give up any ground to Peterborough, who drew with basement side Bradford City.

It was a disappointing afternoon but far from a disastrous one.

Perhaps, too, Wycombe’s obstinance served as a reminder that teams will not roll over for Sunderland and that for all the positive work done by Jack Ross, his project is still ongoing in building partnerships and patterns on the pitch.

The visitors were far from expansive but it was impossible not to be impressed by their diligence and organisation.

They picked their moments to press and commit bodies on the counter.

They scored with their only shot on target, but few would begrudge them a positive result after such a committed showing.

As he headed down the tunnel Gareth Ainsworth received a standing ovation and wild cheers of adulation from the club’s directors. They came to frustrate and they did it.

For Sunderland, there are questions to consider.

Can Josh Maja be left out of the side given his extraordinary ruthlessness in front of goal? Particularly at home, where the wide spaces create the space and uncertainty in defenders that he thrives on?

The front four on Saturday were wasteful on occasions, losing the ball in dangerous areas and leaving the players behind them exposed with some fairly ordinary tracking back.

Ross’s substitutes again made a positive impression in turning the tide, but it seemed strange to take off Dylan McGeouch when extra control and composure on midfield seemed to be the biggest issue for the Black Cats.

The overwhelming sense was of an opportunity missed.

Going top would have been a real statement of Sunderland’s revival, particularly ahead of a tricky run of league fixtures.

That chance has passed them by but twelve games unbeaten is a measure of their resilience and that was on show again at the Stadium of Light.

No one could question their desire to bounce back from a disappointing spell in the latter stages of the game and Wycombe looked close to going under.

Ainsworth admitted as much in his post-match remarks and it is a reminder that Sunderland have so many of the basic fundamentals in place.

The extra dash of quality was missing, but a response at Walsall would put this result in perspective.

Sunderland have well and truly stamped out their losing mentality and the final 20 minutes underlined that.

Their response to their last defeat at Burton Albion remains exemplary.

The trends for the campaign ahead are still very, very good.