That Sunderland had a quarter of the shots against Sheffield United as they did against Derby County on the opening night of the season sums up the regression in their attacking play.
It, of course, goes even deeper than that simple but telling statistic, the Black Cats insipid against the Blades and creating no notable opportunities aside from Jack Rodwell’s late consolation.
Simon Grayson made no attempt to play down the problems ahead of a crucial game against Nottingham Forest, important not just from the perspective of the Championship table but as part of his attempt to reverse a quickly declining mood amongst the Sunderland support.
“When you analyse the stats, we haven’t been as positive or as clinical or made the right decisions when we have been in the final third,” Grayson said.
“When we are attacking, we have to put the other team under sustained pressure, keep the second balls alive, get more crosses in the box, and ask more questions of their back fours.
“That’s why it was so disappointing that our goal in the 94th minute was our only shot on target.
“We need to be better than that.
“We are making the wrong decisions, shooting from long distance from the wrong areas when we should be more patient, more clinical, and then we’ll get more opportunities.”
Grayson’s point about sustained pressure is a telling one, with Sunderland clearly too quick to go for aimless long balls in the direction of the front two at the weekend.
The Black Cats are having to adjust to life in the second tier where teams come to the Stadium of Light and put the onus on the hosts to break them down.
To do so requires patience but bravery and composure on the ball.
“Chris Wilder summed it up at the weekend when he said his players were looking forward to coming to the Stadium of Light, a big ground with a great atmosphere, and a great arena to play in,” Grayson said.
“We have to overcome that and stop the opposition from enjoying it. We have to make it an uncomfortable atmosphere that opponents don’t enjoy.
“I had it when I was at Leeds in League One,” he added.
“We were the big team in League One and everyone wanted to come to Elland Road.
“You need to be a special type of player to play at Elland Road, just as you do to play at the Stadium of Light.
“You have to have good characters and make sure they are bouncing with positivity and enjoy playing their football.
“There are far worse ways to make a living than kicking a ball around.
“The players shouldn’t feel intimidated or fearful of losing the ball or making a bad decision.”
Eager to play down talk of a crisis or a relegation fight, Grayson pointed out that he sees a group of talented attackers emerging who can help change the pace and dynamic of Sunderland’s attack.
“We’ve got players now who we brought in on deadline day because we think they can help us at the top end of the pitch. You saw Jonny Williams make an impact, Callum McManaman, you didn’t have Aiden McGeady in your team. Duncan Watmore is coming back, you’ve got exciting players who are just coming to the club or aren’t available. Other players have to contribute too, from set-pieces, defenders chipping in, midfielders chipping in. You can’t just be reliant on the strikers,” he said.
With Josh Maja also nearing a first team return, the Black Cats boss will at least have greater options.
After his new-look system left the side looking disjointed at the weekend, he also insists that more time to work on the training ground will make a difference to the fluidity of the side.
“On Saturday we had some new players who were settling into the side and understanding what it means to play at the Stadium of Light.
“Jonny Williams had had a couple of training sessions with us, Callum McManaman a couple, the international boys had come back and we didn’t have hardly any time to work on the different system that we played.
“All these factors come together and make it difficult to make things instantly just as you want them. It is going to be an ongoing process where we move towards where we want to get to,” he added.
“Ultimately, let’s see where we are in another 40 games – that’s what really matters.”