Five burning issues that will make or break Sunderland’s season

John O'Shea and the Sunderland defence must tighten up
John O'Shea and the Sunderland defence must tighten up
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Has there ever been so much riding on the appointment of the next manager to take charge at the Stadium of Light?

Dick Advocaat, just four months into his new contract, resigned claiming the current Sunderland squad simply isn’t good enough to survive a relegation scrap.

in action for Sunderland against Norwich. Picture by FRANK REID

in action for Sunderland against Norwich. Picture by FRANK REID

The Dutchman made it clear he was leaving so early to ensure there was enough time for the next man to be able to turn around the campaign.

It has left Ellis Short and the Sunderland board chasing their sixth manager in the space of four years. An incredible stat and one which highlights just how much of a poisoned chalice the Black Cats job is.

But with the mega bucks on offer in next year’s television deal, one thing is for sure: relegation from the Premier League is unthinkable. It would be catastrophic.

If Sunderland, as they have threatened for several seasons, finally plummet through the trap door into the Championship then it could spell disaster and years in the wilderness.

And with winless Sunderland second-bottom and five points from safety after just eight games, the immediate future looks bleak.

Thirty games to save themselves. It sounds a lot, but the months will fly by and Sunderland may not have the fight in them for another Great Escape.

So, what are the five burning issues facing the new manager that will make or break the Black Cats’ season?

1) Tightening up the defence is key:

Sunderland have the worst defence in the top flight. Even worse than Newcastle and Chelsea’s! And with a goal difference already of -10, it is clear where the main problems lie.

If they are to have any chance of staying up the new manager must find a way of shoring up the backline.

They roared out of the blocks against West Ham, but defensive mistakes cost them dear, again conceding in injury time before half-time, while Costel Pantilimon was at fault for the equaliser.

Yet to keep a clean sheet this season, that must change quickly. At one stage last season they were masters of the goalless draw. They need to get back to keeping shut outs.

2) Stick with 4-3-3 or change to 4-4-2 or 3-5-2?

Advocaat stubbornly stuck to his favoured 4-3-3 formation, but did it end up costing Sunderland and ultimately him his job?

Unable to settle on a settled front three, Jermain Defoe was pushed out wide, finally given his chance up front and then dropped.

Fabio Borini and Steven Fletcher were also given time in the central role.

Perhaps it is time for a re-think from the new manager? 3-5-2 may be an option, with the attack-minded DeAndre Yedlin and Adam Matthews in the wing back roles and a back three in a bid to shore up the leaky defence.

The club isn’t awash with wingers after all.

3) Hone Sunderland’s attacking intent:

While defensively Sunderland have been all over the place, the display at Bournemouth a case in point, there has been some promising attacking play up the other end.

They ran Spurs ragged in the first half at the Stadium of Light, while against West Ham the forward line produced their best display of the season in the opening 45 minutes.

The pace and skill of Jeremain Lens is a real weapon, while assist king Yann M’Vila has been the best signing of the summer, and you’d hope there is much more to come from Fabio Borini.

Steven Fletcher produced his best display in two years against West Ham, while top scorer Jermain Defoe is proven at this level, once he rediscovers his goalscoring touch.

Sunderland has the ammunition, but they need to be firing on all cylinders on a more regular basis.

4) January transfer window the most important in Black Cats history:

Advocaat wanted six ‘quality signings’ in the summer. He didn’t get them. It was a key reason behind his premature departure.

Sunderland signed eight players, but only Lens and M’Vila look top drawer.

While the next managerial appointment is the biggest in the club’s history, the January transfer window is equally important.

Chances are there won’t be much cash to spend so they will be relying on the contacts of their new manager.

It may already be too late by January, but Ellis Short will have to speculate to accumulate and open the chequebook.

5) Time to give the younger players a chance:

Duncan Watmore was never given a real opportunity under Advocaat. With no chance of any new signings until January, now is time for the lively forward to be given a chance.

He has already shown his goalscoring touch this season in his restricted appearances so far. Sunderland can’t do any worse than give Watmore more game time.