After some impressive performances, and indeed results, over the last few weeks, it was back to earth with a bang for the Black Cats as they fell to a heavy defeat against relegation rivals Swansea City on Saturday.
While a 3-0 scoreline doesn’t tell the full story of a game in which Sunderland had their chances, it’s difficult to say that the Swans didn’t deserve the three points.
There are plenty of lessons to be learned by David Moyes’ side following this defeat:
1. Sunderland need to take their chances
What perhaps make this defeat particularly disappointing is that Sunderland had opportunities to take the lead – Jermain Defoe twice missing the target and Billy Jones getting caught in two minds before squandering possession.
In the position Sunderland find themselves, such golden opportunities can’t be missed. It’s telling that only minutes after Defoe missed the second of his efforts, Swansea took the lead – had he converted the afternoon could have panned out very differently.
2. Home form is key
This is something Moyes alluded to in his press conference and it’s certainly going to prove key for the Black Cats as they prepare for two home games in the next week. Teams at the bottom have to pick up results at home – both Swansea and Hull did it this weekend and now Sunderland have to follow suit.
Having won their last two games at the Stadium Light there is certainly a platform for Moyes’ men to build on. Chelsea and Watford will be difficult opposition, but the Black Cats will need to pull some home results out the bag if they want to head closer to safety.
3. Defoe can’t be left isolated
There were times at the Liberty Stadium where Defoe cut a frustrated figure up front. With Swansea pushing forward, Sunderland dropped deeper leaving the captain isolated up top, meaning when he did receive the ball there was little he could do with it.
It’s crucial that Sunderland don’t leave their top scorer all alone at the top end of the pitch – he’s good, but he can’t do it all alone.
4. A substitute spark is needed
The Sunderland bench was arguably the strongest it’s looked for years at The Liberty Stadium, with attacking options aplenty in Adnan Januzaj, Wahbi Khazri and Fabio Borini. Yet there still doesn’t seem to be a player who can come on and change a game.
Is one of these three the spark Sunderland could need when trailing? That remains to be seen, but Moyes needs a Plan B when behind.
5. Set pieces can be vital
With just over ten minutes remaining, and with Sunderland 2-0 down, the Black Cats won a free-kick on the edge of the area. A golden opportunity to claw themselves back into the game, it seemed, until Papy Djilobodji smashed it straight into the wall.
Opportunities like this could prove to be vital to Sunderland. Jan Kirchoff’s header against Leicester was the first goal the Wearsiders had scored from a corner this season, and they could certainly do with adding more.
Yet at Swansea, they struggled to create any real openings from corners or free-kicks with Lukasz Fabianski only once forced into a save from a set piece.
Such situations could provide Sunderland with plenty of opportunities to find the back of the net, so they need to make them count.
6. Vengeance needs to be swift
Bob Bradley spoke of how his Swansea team were “hurting” after their heavy defeat to Tottenham, and that the victory over Sunderland was the perfect response. David Moyes will likely find his side in a similar situation this week and will be looking for a similar reaction to that Bradley got on Saturday.
With the hectic festive period coming up the games will be coming thick and fast, giving the Black Cats plenty of opportunities to bounce back from this disappointing performance. Moyes will demand a response in the home double header against Chelsea and Watford.