Chris Coleman’s shot across bows of senior players was long overdue, but there’s bigger battles to come

Darron Gibson takes control of proceedings as Lee Cattermole loses his footing.
Darron Gibson takes control of proceedings as Lee Cattermole loses his footing.
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How refreshing to see an opposition manager bristle post-match, frustrated by Sunderland and his team’s inability to get past them.

Too often this season they have been a soft touch, opponents taking points off them without having to get anywhere close to their best.

WWC 0-0 SAFC 09-12-2027. Picture by FRANK REID

WWC 0-0 SAFC 09-12-2027. Picture by FRANK REID

Here, Nuno Espirito Santo was left to bemoan Sunderland’s lack of ambition and called on his fans to be patient in future games like this.

It will have been music to Chris Coleman’s ears.

Here he saw a grit and determination that at times this season it has been only right to question.

He also saw his tactical message getting through, Sunderland clearly responding to a week’s worth of intensive drilling on the training ground.

The discipline off the ball was excellent and when reduced to ten men, the organisation and resilience was even more impressive.

It is testament to their display that the frightening individual quality of Ivan Cavaleiro and Ruben Neves was seen only in fleeting glimpses.

Of course, Sunderland need wins and the next step for Coleman is to improve the confidence and composure on the ball. The Black Cats still look uncomfortable bringing the ball out from the back and too often make poor decisions, taking just one touch too many.

Two home games loom, in which at least one win is an absolutely necessity and more attacking quality is therefore a must.

Lee Cattermole’s red card meant they did not have the opportunity to show ambition here. Joel Asoro and Aiden McGeady were poised to offer a counter-attacking threat in the latter stages but instead the Black Cats had to sit deep and settle for a point.

That they did so will come as a significant psychological boost, particularly given the way they caved after Callum McManaman’s dismissal just a week earlier. It is a platform to build on and four games in, Chris Coleman will feel he has something to work with.

Four points may not be a remarkable return but three of those games have been away from home. Two have been against Aston Villa and Wolves, who boast the most expensively assembled squads in the league, and in that time they have picked up two clean sheets, here and at Burton Albion.

At a club where the memory of Sam Allardyce and his guide for success still commands instant respect, that is a tangible sign of progress.

A point a game from here on in would likely see Sunderland relegated but it would not require a huge uplift on that to steer Sunderland into mid-table.

If Coleman can improve the home form and add a touch of flair in January, his short-term goal will have been fulfilled and work on the long-term rebuilding project can begin in earnest.

As the manager says himself, it will be a long, hard season, but given the raft of injuries and suspensions he has been faced with, there have been many encouraging signs.

Dropping Aiden McGeady to the bench was a bold call but one entirely vindicated by the excellent displays from George Honeyman and Lynden Gooch.

Both have much to work on, but their endeavour will guarantee more opportunities. Coleman has also given chances to Joel Asoro and Elliot Embleton and key points in crucial games.

It is a shot across the bows of the senior players (many of whom were excellent here) that is probably long overdue.

Coleman proved here that he can motivate and foster unity in a squad, and that the coaching from him and his backroom staff can make a tangible difference where it matters.

The next battle is to combine this defensive discipline with a touch more incision at the other end.

That is no easy task, and while so many remain sidelined there will be as many setbacks as there are step forwards.

There are, however, positives to cling onto. That has not always been the case this season.