Who is Simon Grayson and how would Sunderland look under his management? Recruitment, tactics and background analysed

Sunderland's prolonged search for a new manager continues, with the process showing no signs of coming to a swift end.

Wednesday, 7th June 2017, 12:33 pm
Updated Thursday, 8th June 2017, 2:41 pm
Grayson is one of the favourites for the Sunderland job

What we do know is that Sunderland favour a manager with Championship experience, if they can find one who could be drawn in without the need for significant compensation to be settled with their current club.

That is one reason why Paul Lambert's name has been considered, with Derek McInnes and Simon Grayson also in the frame.

McInnes, the strong frontrunner, has seen his record closely examined but Grayson has gone somewhat under the radar.

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So what would Sunderland look like under his management?

We take a closer look...


With just four clubs in over ten years of management, Grayson has been a consistent, well respected and stabilising presence in the Football League.

He has won promotion from League One with all four of the clubs he has managed: Blackpool, Leeds United, Huddersfield Town and current side Preston North End.

Grayson has never experienced relegation, although Huddersfield Town were struggling when he left in January 2013. Even then, however, they still had an eight point cushion to the drop zone.

He is remembered at Leeds United as one of their better managers of recent times, narrowly missing out on the play-offs on their return to the second tier. At Preston he has underlined his reputation for being someone who stabilises and rebuilds clubs, taking over the Deepdale side while they fought League One mediocrity. He brought them into the Championship and has secured two mid-table finishes on a shoestring budget.

The appointment would not be an overwhelmingly inspiring one, particularly given that he has never landed promotion to the Premier League, but his candidacy reflects the scale of financial uncertainty and the perceived need for an experienced, proven firefighter.

His win percentages make for impressive reading on the back of his League One success, with a career record of around 43%...

Blackpool: 36.8%

Leeds United: 49.7%

Huddersfield Town: 34.7%

Preston North End: 44.3%

Style of play

Only three sides averaged less possession per game than Preston in the league last season, suggesting that Grayson's reputation for developing counter-attacking sides who generally prefer to play direct is well founded.

Preston have been one of the better counter-attacking outfits in the division and generally they have played with a 4-4-2 to complement that.

Wide players are crucial and that would be one of the main areas Grayson would have to address on Wearside, where the counter-attacking has been pedestrian and the lack of speed in wide areas alarming. The Preston boss has played a key role in reigniting Aiden McGeady's career in his recent loan spell at Deepdale, who at one stage looked like he could inspire a Championship surge. Nearly half of Preston's attacks came down their left flank, where McGeady and Greg Cunningham forced a strong partnership. Thomas Barkhuizen has added genuine flair and Daryl Horgan will be tasked with taking on the creative mantle from McGeady.

Similarly, strengthening up front will be key. Grayson has switched between three and four at the back but has been largely consistent in preferring two strikers up front. Jermain Defoe's departure means that Sunderland will likely be without a recognised centre-forward should Fabio Borini and Victor Anichebe leave as expected.

Defence has been a strength of Grayson's Preston, with a battery of unheralded but very efficient centre-halves including Tom Clarke and Alex Baptiste excelling in recent times. Their defensive record suffered in a poor end to the season for the whole side last campaign but being tough to beat has been a key feature of Grayson's side. Their tally of 14 league draws in 2016/17 was one of the highest in the league.

Style of football would be a big concern for Sunderland fans, though his defenders would point out that pragmatism has been vital to make his side competitive.


Perhaps one of the key reasons Grayson appeals to Sunderland is the squad he has built at Preston, assembled for little but with significantly greater sell-on value.

Sourced mainly from the lower leagues of the UK, they have not cost much in wages or transfer fees. Identifying that kind of player is a key part of Sunderland's strategy and was the profile being scouted by David Moyes and his team previous to his departure.

Middlesbrough born Jordan Hugill, for example, was signed for a pittance but is developing into a good Championship striker. Preston have also caught the eye by signing four players from the hitherto largely ignored League of Ireland. They have by far and away the strongest Irish contingent in the Football League.

Those kind of scouting networks will appeal to Sunderland as they seek to adjust to their new reality. A net spend of just over £1 million, combined with a wage budget dwarfed by their top half competitors, showed how well Grayson used the loan and free agent market. That is an area Sunderland did abysmally in last season and will have to improve next time around.