Chris Young column - Sunderland have issues, but what can Dick Advocaat do immediately?

Duncan Watmore celebrates his goal for Sunderland against Norwich. Picture by FRANK REID
Duncan Watmore celebrates his goal for Sunderland against Norwich. Picture by FRANK REID
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Dispirited, angry and hungry for blood; a particularly dark mood has consumed Sunderland fans this week in the wake of back-to-back humiliations.

Sunderland have even become the butt of the joke for the manner of their capitulations – one national radio station mocking up a feature with a punter discussing the latest travails at the Stadium of Light.

While supporters are looking for answers over why this club is continually in the doldrums, Advocaat needs answers to put points on the board

But after clearing the air with his squad over the weekend, Dick Advocaat cannot (and will not) be consumed with the doom-mongering which seems to be an annual occurrence on Wearside.

While supporters are looking for answers over why this club is continually in the doldrums, Advocaat needs answers to put points on the board.

Yes, the remaining 12 days of the transfer window must offer Sunderland some solace through a significant investment in at least a couple of fresh faces who can instantly improve the standard of the starting XI.

Everyone can see the repercussions otherwise.

But there are two more games before the transfer window shuts, with both offering the opportunity for Sunderland to break their duck, even if Swansea are looking by far the “best of the rest” outside the top six.

In an opening four games of the campaign where Advocaat would have been targeting a six-point minimum haul, Sunderland cannot afford to still be empty-handed by the time the opening international break of the season rolls around.

While the inquest continues into the club’s direction, what can Advocaat do on a practical basis to end the losing start to the season?

1. Restore John O’Shea to the side:

Advocaat’s intention of throwing summer signing Younes Kaboul straight into the frame, rather than relying on a 34-year-old, had some justification.

But while O’Shea’s lack of pace is a concern, the Sunderland captain has been the organisational presence in the Black Cats back-line in his four years since leaving Manchester United.

Without O’Shea, Kaboul and Sebastian Coates have lacked any cohesion – little communication and huge gaps appearing for the opposition to exploit; demonstrated by Norwich waltzing through the back line with a brace of one-twos.

No, O’Shea isn’t a long-term answer, yet with Kaboul and Coates both looking rusty, Advocaat needs to rediscover some defensive solidity after shipping seven goals against two of Sunderland’s likely fellow relegation candidates.

2. Keep Duncan Watmore in the fold:

It’s a completely different ball-game to start in the Premier League, than a run-out from the bench for the final 20 minutes.

Just because Watmore out-shone all of his senior colleagues against Norwich, he was introduced when the Canaries knew the game was won and space had opened up against tiring legs.

But Watmore emphatically demonstrated that his unwavering hunger and no-fear attitude in running at defenders can reap rewards and put the opposition on the back foot.

Even if Advocaat opts against including Watmore in the starting XI on Saturday, he has to now be considered a genuine option from the bench, rather than one who just makes up the numbers.

3. Take Patrick van Aanholt out of his misery:

It’s hard to single out one player for the debacles in Sunderland’s opening two games, but van Aanholt has been particularly culpable after he was responsible for at least a couple of the goals against both Leicester and Norwich.

Van Aanholt’s defending is clearly not his strongest asset, but his positioning and lack of concentration has been alarming, while even his confidence going forward seemed to have been shattered.

The problem for Advocaat is that he doesn’t have a natural alternative left-back available, with Billy Jones and Adam Matthews more content on the opposite flank.

But needs must and one of them may have to be shoehorned onto the left if Sunderland are to find any hint of defensive solidity.

4. Restore some attitude to the side:

Sunderland’s success during Advocaat’s nine-game tenure at the end of last season was built on players bursting every sinew to keep the club in the Premier League.

But there has been little sign of that so far this time around, with those in red and white – who have not looked as well-conditioned as their opponents for starters – sitting off and allowing the opposition time and space to pick a pass.

With the likes of Lee Cattermole, Seb Larsson and Yann M’Vila in midfield, Sunderland need to play to their strengths and get their pressing game going, rather than meekly allowing the momentum to swing the other way.