Home issues still glaring and four other things we learned from frustrating Sunderland display

Sunderland produced a poor performance on the first day of 2018
Sunderland produced a poor performance on the first day of 2018
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2018 began with a disappointing defeat for Sunderland, insipid as they fell back into the bottom three.

Here, we pick out five of the key talking points to come from the defeat...

Home struggles a difficult problem to solve

At the City Ground Sunderland sat deep, defended diligently and picked their moments to try and counter.

It is no coincidence that their best performances have by and large this season come away from home, where they have been able to contain and generally be more reactive in their approach.

Their one win at home came against a Fulham side who had more than 60% possession. Against Barnsley we again saw that the quality on the ball was lacking, particularly in the latter stages of the game as they created precious few chances. Barnsley were comfortable dealing with what generally was long balls into the channels or the isolated James Vaughan. That stems from a lack of confidence as much as anything and is something that has to change this year.

The home hoodoo has finally been ended but turning the Stadium of Light into a fortress will require changes to the squad in the longer term. In the short term, they simply must get more from Aiden McGeady and Callum McManaman. Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before.

Gibson will be a massive miss

With that in mind, it is hard to understate what a blow it was to see Darron Gibson go off with an injury half an hour into the game.

The Irishman had been Sunderland's best player by some distance, initiating their most promising attacks with some excellent passing out to the flanks. It said everything about the way he has played in recent weeks that he received his strongest ovation from supporters yet as he left the pitch.

When fit, Paddy McNair will bring energy and no little quality but in the meantime they are badly short of options and there is no like for like replacement. It will be hard to improve their composure in possession without him.

Coleman not afraid to gamble

Given Gibson's absence, it was a slight surprise to see Coleman switch to a midfield two in the second half, particularly given that McNair is clearly short on match fitness.

Of course, what the Black Cats manager had not bargained for was Sunderland gifting away a goal from a corner minutes into the second half, completely changing the complexion of the game.

Coleman has not been afraid to make bold substitutions so far and it was another brave move to take off Oviedo, one of the better performers generally this season but clearly rusty on this occasion.

It did not work out this time but after the frustration with Simon Grayson and David Moyes, both of whom tended to make changes late in the game, supporters will generally be far happier with this approach. It has already helped secure vital wins against Burton and Fulham.

Ruiter is undisputed number one

When Coleman arrived on Wearside, shortly after a 2-2 draw with Millwall, the goalkeeper situation was critical and the biggest issue for the Sunderland boss to overcome.

Around six weeks later the situation is not perfect but at least stable.

Ruiter made two smart stops against Barnsley to keep his side in the game and generally commanded his box very well. It was infuriating to see another set piece goal conceded, particularly the way was allowed to bounce in the box unchallenged, but Ruiter cannot be blamed for the lack of adequate marking in front of him. His distribution is a work in progress and in the long-term Coleman may still yet seek a new number one.

For now, however, he at least has a player he clearly feels he can trust.

Matthews struggles in centre-back berth

Injuries, suspensions and fatigue have prevented the Sunderland boss naming a regular side and it came back to bite them on Monday.

Eager not to change the system too much given how little time they had to prepare, Coleman compensated for the lack of Marc Wilson by moving Adam Matthews to the left side of a back three.

The results were mixed and Sunderland missed his quality in the final third after an excellent display at the City Ground.

Donald Love struggled with his end product on the other flank and few balls of true quality found their way into the Barnsley box.

It is perhaps consolation that Coleman has shown the ability to eke out the points he has done so far despite the raft of availability issues.