Sheffield Wednesday defeat highlights some key concerns but Jack Ross sees positives to take
That Sunderland are out of the Carabao Cup will be of no great concern to Jack Ross.
The Black Cats boss was eager to keep building momentum but in his pre-match remarks he had been clear that the priority was making it seven league points out of nine on Sunday.
He will be concerned, undoubtedly, that another error from Alim Ozturk unsettled his team, a woeful misjudgement that allowed Marco Matias to score the goal from which Sunderland never recovered.
Even at this early stage of the season, the fitness of veteran centre-back Glenn Loovens already looks more crucial than it ought to be.
The return of Tom Flanagan at Gillingham next week will be welcome.
There will be concern, too, that Sheffield Wednesday exposed a lack of height in the home side that many fear will be a recurring theme this season.
While the Championship side showed little enterprise in their play, their greater physicality ultimately told.
It would be remiss, however, to paint this as a game in which Sunderland were simply swatted aside.
There was much to admire in their first-half play and while the lack of presence in the final third is currently an obvious concern, the quality of their build-up play in the early stages was on occasions a delight to watch.
Ozturk’s first-half howler was all the more frustrating given that it punctured a sustained spell of pressure that had the sparse but vocal of Stadium of Light crowd purring.
Necessity had forced Ross to name an unbalanced looking side, with five central midfielders behind Chris Maguire.
George Honeyman was given the task of providing support while Luke O’Nien and Elliot Embleton roamed infield from unfamiliar wing positions.
The visitors, with former Black Cat Steven Fletcher leading the line, were reliant on long balls and knock downs with Sunderland doing most of the running.
They came close to opening the scoring twice in the early stages, on both occasions unfortunate that Embleton found himself in space but with the ball on his weaker foot. Firstly he ran onto a neat pass from George Honeyman, his effort tame and sliced straight at Joe Wildsmith in the Wednesday goal.
Then came one of the best moves of the game, Jon McLaughlin resisting the urge to go long and instead launching a delightful break through the lines. Denver Hume released Embleton who this time connected well, shooting wide of the far post.
Sunderland continued to press and harry, McLaughlin troubled only when Marco Matias fired a Fletcher header straight at him.
The home support responded well to the endeavour on show, but they were stunned into silence when Ozturk misjudged another punt through the middle. Matias caught him on the ball and had the easiest of finishes, stabbing past McLaughlin.
Sunderland responded well, with Luke O’Nien missing two superb chances to level before the break.
His first effort drew an easy save from Wildsmith, the midfielder taking just too long to shoot after being released by a stunning long pass from Max Power. With the interval just moments away, he again failed to get his shot away in time as Joost Van Aken recovered to make the block.
Ozturk almost bounced back with a goal early in the half, heading a good cross from Reece James wide of the post.
Sheffield Wednesday’s threat continued to come from Fletcher’s aerial prowess, Jack Baldwin having to clear a Matias effort off the line after another knock down from the Scot.
McLaughlin was then forced into his first strong save of the match, denying George Boyd with his outstretched boot as the wing-back sprung the offside trap.
After an insipid opening, the extra power at Jos Luhukay’s disposal was beginning to make a difference.
The Black Cats struggled to make an impression in the final third, the snap in their passing and running just lacking.
Rsss responded by throwing on Lynden Gooch and Josh Maja, with the former demanding a penalty when his effort appeared to strike the arm of Matias.
Their resistance was ended when Barry Bannan drove a wicked cross towards the near post. Adam Reach was on hand to head home.
Sunderland had run out of steam, in the end easily beaten, though there are without question positives for Ross to draw. They are a touch light both on numbers and presence, but that is nothing new.
The arrivals of Charlie Wyke and the return of Jerome Sinclair remain eagerly anticipated.