Should Lee Cattermole and Didier Ndong continue as Sunderland's midfield partnership? Simon Grayson gives his verdict
Much optimism in pre-season came from a partnership in central midfield that Sunderland supporters, and pundits, felt had all the energy and ability to dominate games.
That was backed up by an encouraging opening night performance when Sunderland were unlucky not to beat Derby, as both Lee Cattermole and Didier Ndong impressed.
Since then, though, the pair have struggled, often overrun.
It has left many suggesting that, particularly at home, Cattermole and Ndong should not be playing together and are hindering the team’s attempts to adjust to life in the second tier.
Manager Simon Grayson admits that the pair have not ‘dominated’ opponents often enough and wants to see better care on the ball in his midfield.
“I think it’s a fair assessment,” he said.
“As we have touched on, there are a lot of players who have more to give to get the level that they’re capable of.
“Those two have played at the highest level. What I’ve got to do is get the right options if I do choose to play someone else instead of one of them or alongside them.
“The whole group has to improve if we’re going to get results.
“Against QPR (in last weekend’s 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light), they were outnumbered because we went with the 4-4-2 in possession, and QPR had three in there, so it’s not easy to get on the ball as much.
“But I do feel, in that game, both of them probably had to handle the ball a little bit better if we’re going to have sustained periods of pressure.”
Grayson added: “I think they’d be the first to admit they’ve different qualities to other players.,
“I thought Didier showed his athleticism and drive in the second half, getting around people and letting others play from there.
“Do we need to handle the ball better as a team? Of course we do – we need more possession to build sustained attacks.”
Two vital home games coming up – against Bristol City next Saturday and Bolton the following Tuesday – could provide the opportunity to freshen things up, though Grayson warns that playing a more creative player, such as Jonny Williams, in a midfield two could leave his side open.
With tomorrow’s trip to Brentford in mind, the Black Cats boss also pointed out that Cattermole and Ndong may perhaps be a more effective partnership away from the Stadium of Light, where his side have a better record this season.
He said: “It depends on where you’re playing and who you’re playing against.
“There’s two arguments to it. Someone like Jonny gives you a lot more quality on the ball – he sees a pass, makes things happen. Has he got the defensive quality?
“If you put him in there and you’re overrun, then people will say well you should have played two holding midfielders.
“It’s a balance with who and where you’re playing.
“Maybe those two are suited to playing away from home. At home, not as much.”