Key issues Sunderland boss Simon Grayson is working on ahead of crunch QPR clash

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Sunderland have a free weekend due to the international break before the crunch month of October really kicks in.

The Black Cats, struggling in the Championship, are in desperate need of a lift in the coming weeks to get their campaign firmly back on track.

A fan wears a Simon Grayson mask at Deepdale.

A fan wears a Simon Grayson mask at Deepdale.

QPR are the visitors to the Stadium of Light a week on Saturday, the first of three league home games this month.

Here are three key issues facing Grayson over this international break.

Find a solution to defensive frailties:

A spirited performance and point at Preston North End may have raised hopes second-bottom Sunderland could soon start climbing the Championship but the league table currently makes for miserable reading.

George Honeyman opens the scoring against Preston North End.

George Honeyman opens the scoring against Preston North End.

In particular, the goals conceded column. Sunderland have shipped 21 in 11 games, the third-worst record in the league. Sunderland haven’t kept a clean sheet all season.

With no game this weekend, the international break is an ideal time to work on tightening up defensively. Problem facing Grayson is Lamine Kone, Bryan Oviedo and John O’Shea are all away on international duty.

Time to settle on a goalkeeper:

A settled defence and settled goalkeeper is key to Sunderland turning their fortunes around.

Grayson has chopped and changed between summer signings Jason Steele and Robbin Ruiter, ex-Blackburn Rovers stopper Steele making eight appearances and Ruiter six. Neither have particularly convinced. Neither has kept a clean sheet in the league.

Both will be striving to impress on the training ground over the break and Grayson has to make a decision. Ruiter commands his area more, coming to either punch or catch but Steele prefers to stay on his line.

Changing goalkeepers regularly means the defence has to alter their approach depending on who is in goal. Time to make a decision.

Stick or twist in central defence?

To keep faith with John O’Shea and Tyias Browning or recall Lamine Kone?

On his day, the Ivory Coast international is without doubt Sunderland’s best defender. He has the potential to be the Championship’s best defender. Yet his form has dipped alarmingly over the past 12-months, along with his value.

O’Shea and Browning worked well together at Preston, O’Shea’s experience and organisational skills alongside Browning’s pace and physical presence. O’Shea is in the latter stages of his career but with only four games in October he will be fine with that schedule in what is a crunch month with three home games.

Grayson will be pondering whether to keep faith with the Preston defensive unit or bring Kone back into the fold.

One thing is for sure, if Kone is to get his wish of a move away from Sunderland then he will have to start performing.