Six things: No need to panic but huge improvement needed as Sunderland suffer first defeat

Sunderland's unbeaten spell came to an end with a 2-1 loss at Burton Albion.

Sunday, 16th September 2018, 12:52 pm
Updated Sunday, 16th September 2018, 12:57 pm
Jerome Sinclair started for Sunderland at Burton Albion.

Here's what we learned from the defeat at the Pirelli Stadium.

Jack Ross goes all out attack...but Sunderland suffer first defeat

Burton score a second as Sunderland slip to defeat. Pictures by Frank Reid.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Nigel Clough must have raised an eyebrow or two when the teamsheets landed just before 2pm.

Ross had named all three of his forwards Charlie Wyke, Jerome Sinclair and Josh Maja in the starting line-up, with George Honeyman and Lynden Gooch also in the side.

It was a real statement of intent. Burton hadn't read the script though and they dominated the early stages and deservedly took the lead.

Sunderland's attacking 4-2-3-1 system left them exposed and overrun in central midfield. The front four not working hard enough to create chances, impose themselves physically or support Wyke, who struggled himself before his game was ended early through injury.

Stewart Donald watched the game from the away end at Burton Albion.

Plenty to ponder for Ross.

Set piece woe continues to haunt Sunderland.

It has become a real issue and opposing teams in League One haven't taken long to work out Sunderland's weak spot; they cannot defend set pieces. Six goals now conceded from set pieces.

Burton's second was embarrassing from a Sunderland perspective, it would be an insult to schoolboys to describe it that way but it was rank bad defending from a routine free-kick.

Sunderland look a bag of nerves at the back when defending corners and free-kicks. That was the other issue, conceding far too many free-kicks, especially in the first half.

It allowed Burton to maintain pressure. Hard work on the training ground is the only answer to solving the set piece problem.

Should it have been a red card?

He only arrived on Friday but new Burton keeper Dimitar Evtimov certainly made a big impact on his debut.

Sadly for Sunderland and Charlie Wyke, that impact was on the striker's right knee. The same knee he injured in the summer before signing for Sunderland.

On first glance Evtimov's challenge seemed reckless and over the top, photographs showing he also had his studs raised.

Jack Ross' initial reaction was that it was reckless but after seeing a replay said he thought it was a collision and nothing more malicious than that.

Either way, you have to question whether it would have been a red card had an outfield player committed the foul?

As it was the Burton keeper wasn't even booked. Sunderland now anxiously sweating on the extent of the knee injury suffered by Wyke.

No need to panic but big improvement needed.

This was Sunderland's first defeat of the League One campaign, their seven-game unbeaten spell coming to an abrupt end.

It had been coming. Sunderland had been fortunate in several of their opening games, having to come from a goal down on more occassions than Ross would have liked.

Their luck ran out at the Pirelli Stadium. It was a harsh lesson and one that needs to be learned quickly, big improvements needed in all areas if Sunderland are to win promotion at the first time of asking.

Sunderland fortunate other results went their way.

It could have been far worse but as it stands, Sunderland remain fourth after Peterborough United, Walsall and Barnsley also all tasted defeat.

Sunderland are, however, now five points off the top, with Portsmouth setting the early pace.

This early wake-up call needs to be just that for Sunderland, with Rochdale the visitors on Saturday, nothing less than three points will do.

James Fowler takes a bird's eye view for the second half, with Stewart Donald sat with the away fans.

Not for the first time this season, Ross' No.2 James Fowler took to the TV gantry for a period of the second half in a bid to get a different angle on Sunderland's play.

Burton started the second half like a stream train and it wasn't long, around 20 minutes, before Fowler was back alongside Ross on the Sunderland bench.

A little further along in the main stand sat Stewart Donald, he was in amongst the Sunderland fans - who also had the full terrace behind the goal.

It was an afternoon to forget for SAFC fans but it was good to see the owner mixing with the Sunderland faithful.

The Sunderland support was superb once again, they deserve a big three points to cheer this coming weekend.