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Chris Coleman’s Sunderland gameplan examined: What’s changed and can it be a long-term success?

George Honeyman is congratulated on Sunderland's second goal at Burton.
George Honeyman is congratulated on Sunderland's second goal at Burton.
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George Honeyman joked that he had been left slightly bemused by the sight of his team-mates running to celebrate his goal with Joel Asoro.

Clearly, the 23-year-old had expected a bit more affection himself after gambling and making the crucial run to the back post to convert.

Still, the wait for a win has been tortuous and a bit of chaos and confusion as the dam finally broke was only to be expected.

On a more serious note, Honeyman praised Asoro for his contribution and was also keen to highlight Callum McManaman’s role in ‘wearing out the full-back’ before the Swede’s arrival.

It was an interesting point.

McManaman and fellow winger McGeady were both below their best at the Pirelli Stadium and Chris Coleman’s intervention to replace them both was the bold and absolutely correct call.

What is also true, however, is that the pair played their part in applying pressure on a Burton side that built slowly throughout the game and eventually broke their resistance.

It was a refreshing sight, Sunderland patiently waiting for the opening rather than starting the game well and running out of steam when an early goal doesn’t materialise.

At times, particularly in the first half, Sunderland’s new approach made for a stale game and no one was more frustrated than Coleman, often looking to the skies as a pass flew into touch or to an opposition player.

The change he has initiated is significant and teething problems are guaranteed, particularly with games against Wolves and Fulham, two of the most eye-catching teams in the league, on the horizon.

Robbin Ruiter has already alluded to the change in approach and watching the opening two games of Coleman’s tenure the desire to build from the back is obvious.

Ruiter is encouraged to come short to his full-backs and centre-backs at every opportunity, only going long when all of his team-mates are being pressed.

If there is no obvious option in front, the ball goes sideways. As Coleman himself has said, against teams with a good attacking threat there is little to be gained from giving the ball straight to them.

He has also installed a sitting midfielder. At Villa it was Darron Gibson, at Burton it was Lee Cattermole.

That offers another line of defence, particularly when opponents counter, but it also means that there is always another option for the back five in possession.

Coleman will be flexible when needs be, and in charge of Wales he delivered one of the great counter-attacking performances in the 3-1 destruction of Belgium.

Generally, however, he will want control and when it functions at its best, this style should allow Sunderland to control games far better than they have done.

The advantages are myriad, pushing wide players into more advanced areas where they can do real damage, providing Lewis Grabban with the service into feet that he demands.

It is an approach that suits the squad and one of the reasons why there are real grounds to believe Coleman can be a long-term success in the job.

Of course, there are no guarantees and it will take a number of windows for the masterplan to come to fruition.

For starters, Sunderland’s best options at centre-back right now are clearly not natural ball-players and the injured Jonny Williams aside, the same probably goes for their central midfielders.

In the short to medium term, there will be errors, frustrating afternoons, an occasional lack of incision.

There will be days when opponents with more confidence and the benefit of more training ground time working on this gameplan will simply not allow Sunderland to dictate proceedings.

Even in the financially-challenged environment Sunderland face, Coleman will need backing in the market.

Moves to a more possession-based approach in the past have failed, most notably under Gus Poyet, due to a number of bad calls in the transfer market.

For now, however, both the squad and the support can at least see a clear plan to throw their weight behind.

There is genuine reason to believe more teams can be worn down as Burton eventually were.