Phil Smith’s analysis: Genuine grounds for positivity as new-look Sunderland make progress

George Honeyman dinks home Sunderland's winner at Bury last night.
George Honeyman dinks home Sunderland's winner at Bury last night.
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It was another small step, rather than a great leap forward, for Simon Grayson.

For much of last night’s Carabao Cup first round tie, his side laboured, seeing plenty of the ball without really carving open a surprisingly tame Bury.

The Black Cats are a team who have become accustomed to sitting deep, trying to absorb pressure, attacking sporadically rather than in great numbers.

Perhaps it is no great surprise, then, that when faced with a five-man defence offering little in attack, they looked a touch unsure of themselves.

That will be no great concern to the Black Cats’ boss, who got what he craved in a first competitive win, a chance to build on the cautious but unmistakable positivity that followed the opening night draw with Derby.

There was a clean sheet, John O’Shea slotting seamlessly into the heart of the defence and drawing strong performances from Tyias Browning, to his right, and Brendan Galloway, to his left.

Left-back Galloway delivered by far his most impressive showing to date in red and white, getting in attacking positions but crucially not leaving his side exposed at the other end.

Browning underlined why Grayson was so keen to bring him in and play him at centre-back, his decision-making so clear for a player so young.

Keeper Jason Steele was not tested, nor were the defence in front of him for the most part, but it is another stepping stone towards the resilient, competitive side Grayson demands.

He will have been even more encouraged that when his senior attacking players struggled, it was a youngster who stepped up to make the crucial contribution.

The manager talked George Honeyman up pre-match, more than happy to single him out for praise and even taking the unusual step, particularly for a manager who craves being tactically hard to predict, of naming him in the side long before kick-off.

Honeyman, buoyed by his surprise selection last Friday, spoke of wanting to use Sunderland’s increased time and space on the ball to show off his creative talents alongside the now trademark industry.

He did that in some style, starting the move on one flank, forcing his way into the box on the other and chipping the impressive Joe Murphy, once a back-up goalkeeper on Wearside.

The 22-year-old had threatened down the right flank with sub Joel Asoro, the Swede not having the same impact as his academy team-mate ,but who will still have been pleased to make a significant contribution.

It was a goal worth celebrating, and just over 1,000 fans in the away end at Gigg Lane were more than prepared to accept the invitation.

Even if this was far from a classic, it was a win, an all-too-rare win.

The team showed plenty of endeavour on and off the ball, Darron Gibson making a solid return and showing much stronger box-to-box running that we have seen from him so far at Sunderland.

The Black Cats almost made it 2-0 when Honeyman forced his way into the box late on, only to see Asoro denied by Murphy. It was a move born of persistence, an enthusiasm to hassle and harry, which will have thrilled Grayson.

His team is far from the finished product, but 11 years on from the acrimony of Niall Quinn’s final game in charge at the same ground, he will have been relieved to see his team show their competitive edge again.

The coming months may not grab the headlines as they did in 2006-07, but there are genuine grounds for positivity nevertheless.