NO, THIS is not the most boring season in Sunderland’s history.
The drawing pattern has perhaps unsurprisingly prompted discussion on that topic this week.
But this campaign was never going to match the thrills and spills of last season. It needed to be dull and steady to lay some foundations for a calmer Premier League existence.
Sunderland may have already exceeded their total of draws from the whole of last season, yet some of the stalemates have actually been pretty decent on the eye.
With the personnel Gus Poyet has had available over the Autumn too, Sunderland’s only real asset has been their resilience.
Both flying full-backs have been out for at least the last month. Ricky Alvarez and Emanuele Giaccherini are only just coming back into the frame.
Adam Johnson has been the sole player in Sunderland’s line-up genuinely capable of producing that little bit of something different, and he has invariably found himself hauled off before the finale.
But now that Alvarez and Giaccherini are back – or very nearly back – it’s time to introduce some flair to proceedings.
Regardless of any striker reinforcements come January, one of Alvarez or Giaccherini MUST generally be in the starting XI.
Both have the ability to go past a player. Both have the ability to split a defence with a single pass.
Neither of those characteristics are abundant in the well-drilled, efficient, solid, current Sunderland line-up.
Poyet wouldn’t necessarily disagree. He rates the ex-Serie A pair highly and would have handed Giaccherini a prominent role this season if it hadn’t been for his injury problems.
The quandary for Poyet is how and where to use the pair.
It’s been the dilemma with Giaccherini ever since Sunderland splashed out more than £6million on the Italian international 18 months ago.
Paolo Di Canio was so enraptured at the prospect of landing a player from Juventus that he gave scant thought to where he would fit into the jigsaw.
Giaccherini doesn’t have the pace to play as an orthodox winger and doesn’t boast the physical might to regularly line up in the middle of the park.
Ideally, he wants to be a number 10, but that’s not a system Poyet plays.
It’s why the 29-year-old has predominantly been used as a substitute under Poyet. His deficiencies out wide or in the middle of the park can be overcome when spaces open up late in the game.
Alvarez is far more physically suited to the Premier League and has demonstrated in his substitute outings that he is no slouch, while he has a range of trickery to tie full-backs in knots.
If Poyet’s quest to convert draws into wins is to mount a serious charge at St James’s Park, then maybe the head coach needs to gamble on his fellow South American to provide a touch of composure in the derby whirlwind.
Poyet’s reservation in picking two from Johnson, Will Buckley, Alvarez and Giaccherini to occupy the two wide slots has been the potential to leave the central striker isolated.
It’s why Fabio Borini was the ideal fit for the left-sided forward role last season and why Poyet chased him so hard during the summer when everyone else had resigned themselves to defeat.
It’s why Connor Wickham’s position has been fudged this season.
That’s always the danger with playing one up front. Just think back to the end of Martin O’Neill’s reign and the regular sight of a solitary red and white shirt in the penalty area.
Sunderland don’t necessarily have a central midfielder who can bridge that gap either.
It was a role envisaged for Jack Rodwell, but as yet, the £10million summer signing hasn’t proved he can fulfil the box-to-box remit.
However, using Alvarez out wide and allowing him the freedom to drift looks to be the best fit for the on-loan Inter Milan man.
The Argentine, plus whoever is on the other side, may simply be urged to get in the box more to get in or around the central striker.
If Poyet can use Alvarez or Giaccherini out wide in tandem with Johnson, it would crucially free up Wickham to play down the middle.
Given Wickham looks the most threatening of Sunderland’s three strikers, the 21-year-old has to play in his favoured position sooner rather than later.
But balancing this conundrum is what Poyet is paid for.
The Uruguayan has made Sunderland the crown princes of avoiding defeat.
Now he has to include sufficient creativity to break the pattern of hum-drum draws.