Some familiar failings in Leeds defeat but Grayson's Sunderland have earned patience

Much of Sunderland's 2-0 defeat to Leeds felt familiar '“ the positive start giving way to the sloppy first goal, the lack of incision and, finally, the predictable goal conceded on the counter-attack.

Monday, 21st August 2017, 10:00 am
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 11:25 am

Both goals were so preventable, the first alack of concentration at a throw-in and, for the second, a failure to stop the cross from out wide and a failure to pick up a runner attacking the box.

This game, this defeat, had a pattern much like the seven that have preceded it at the Stadium of Light in 2017 so far.

That the reaction to the result has been so much more restrained, however, speaks volumes for the small but significant steps taken by Simon Grayson’s side so far.

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There was neither a lack of endeavour nor a lack of spirit; Sunderland still trying to get forward right until the sixth minute of stoppage time.

Despite the fact that Felix Wiedwald was barely tested in the Leeds goal, the Black Cats also regularly managed to get themselves into promising attacking positions.

Aiden McGeady regularly found himself one on one with the full-back, and there were countless times when the likes of Lee Cattermole, sub Wahbi Khazri and Lewis Grabban found themselves with the ball in good positions near the opposition area.

The final ball simply wasn’t there – crosses hit the first man, passes missed their target’s runs.

In the opening weeks of the season, Sunderland have been refreshingly efficient in front of goal, but here they wasted a number of good openings.

Much of that was surely down to fatigue – mental as well as physical.

Grayson named an unchanged side for the fourth game in a row and, in the end, it looked a step too far.

Even if Grabban had found the net with a deft chip in the 20th minute, the way so many players looked so lethargic for much of the second half, it would have a tall order to see the game through.

The problem for Grayson, however, is that any change he made to the starting XI would have seen the quality of the team dip.

Khazri may possess much talent, but he has looked out of form in recent weeks.

Elsewhere, making changes would have meant disrupting blossoming partnerships all over the field and in key areas, losing the pace and energy that has made the 4-4-2 system so difficult to play against for opposing teams.

It seems an obvious mistake in hindsight, but until Grayson gets more players through the door, a schedule as punishing as the one Sunderland have faced in the last fortnight is always going to lead to flat performances like this one.

As well as a strong end to the transfer window, Sunderland also need to correct a simple, but, at the moment, destructive flaw.

Defensively, they have a serious weakness on the left, something that has been apparent since the start of pre-season but only truly exposed by Leeds.

New boss Thomas Christiansen has been talked up as a disciple of Cruyff, but that was arch tactical pragmatism, constantly asking his time to play a lofted ball from left to right as soon as they won possession.

It opened Sunderland up and erorded their confidence, and it will not be solved as easily as simply putting Bryan Oviedo into the side. McGeady has much licence to roam, but he leaves his full-back exposed. Moving him infield, however, reduces his crossing threat.

That is something for Grayson to solve.

He summed it up perfectly when he said his side had ‘huffed and puffed’.

A familar, flat defeat, but an unfamiliar calm. Perspective is needed in the Championship.