How Aiden McGeady’s ‘buffet balls’ have transformed Sunderland’s set piece threat

Aiden McGeady congratulates George Honeyman at Hillsborough
Aiden McGeady congratulates George Honeyman at Hillsborough
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Last season it was one of many major gripes from the dugout to the terraces.

Sunderland’s lack of any set piece threat, further diminishing what was already a very limited attacking team.

Honeyman has impressed at the start of the season

Honeyman has impressed at the start of the season

Many blamed the delivery. The manager, for what it is worth, felt those in the box weren’t attacking the ball as they needed to.

Three games into the new campaign, and it is a very different story.

There have been no goals as of yet, but had Lewis Grabban and Billy Jones taken their chances at the front post, Sunderland would have been out of sight at Hillsborough before half-time.

In a refreshing change, the Black Cats have offered a permanent threat, so much so that Norwich City boss Daniel Farke picked it out as the biggest threat to his side before the game.

Jones misses a big chance at Hillsborough

Jones misses a big chance at Hillsborough

For George Honeyman, the delivery of his team-mate on the opposite flank is crucial.

“His [McGeady] delivery has been really good,” he said. “As Robbie Stockdale likes to call them, they’re ‘buffet balls’, go and help yourself. He really is a quality man to have over the ball.

“We all have the set routine before the start of the game, which you obviously need.

“It’s a big game changer – if we can keep nicking goals from set-pieces, it is going mean we win more than we lose.

“It is the defending as well. We’ve had a lot of meetings on defensive set plays, and, I don’t know how many corners we had to defend in the second half at Hillsborough but it was a lot. We didn’t concede any and so you can see it is working.”

Key to that has been new centre-forward James Vaughan, still searching for his first goal but having impressed with his work-rate and drawn praise from his manager for his contributions in his own box.

Vaughan is one of a number of players Grayson has turned to in order to boost the Championship experience in his squad.

Honeyman has revealed, however, that even those used to the notoriously demanding second tier have been taken aback by Sunderland’s punishing schedule since the season began.

He said: “I think from some of the boys that have played in it, mainly the new signings, even by their standards they’ve said it has been a tough start, in terms of the schedule and the away games.

“I think the feeling is if we can get through this and keep the unbeaten run up then there isn’t really much that can stop us, this might be as hard as it gets.”

Honeyman has so far played evry minute of Sunderland’s campaign, offering crucial balance to Simon Grayson’s 4-4-2 and impressing with his work-rate as well as his goals.

The Black Cats looked to be suffering in the closing stages of the 1-1 draw with Hillsborough but Honyeman said Simon Grayson had to persist with the winning team.

There are likely to be changes when Leeds United visit the Stadium of Light but Honeyman is confident any fresh faces will be able to hit the ground running.

He said: “From the manager’s point of view, it would have been tough to change the team after a 3-1 win away.

“I think we all expected it to be the same team, we’re building that togetherness and that momentum.

“He might change it now, I’m not sure what his thought process is, but whatever team goes out there you can’t complain about the schedule – that’s the Championship.

“You’ve got to move on to the next game quickly.”