Stopping Chris Martin and Tom Huddlestone key to Sunderland’s chances against Derby County

Ndong will be a key player for Sunderland against Derby
Ndong will be a key player for Sunderland against Derby
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Sunderland begin their Championship campaign against Derby County in need of a fast start after the woe of last season.

What will be the keys to a positive result?

1. Stand up to Martin...

Allowing Chris Martin to move on loan to Fulham last season was a baffling decision on Nigel Pearson’s part.

Fulham soared while Derby floundered, but the return of Steve McClaren to Pride Park saw Martin desperately try to force through an early return.

This will be his first competitive game since returning the club where his reputation blossomed, and he will be eager to impress. Likely to start at the head of a 4-3-3, Martin is a crucial player.

If Sunderland can win the aerial battle with him they will go a long way to shutting down Derby’s attack. Lamine Kone is good enough to do it, but his performances at the moment are erratic.

2. Get close to Huddlestone...

The departure of Will Hughes to Watford has robbed Derby of their best young talent, but Tom Huddlestone (pictured below)looks a sound replacement. The midfielder, once courted by Sunderland, will be the visitor’s primary playmaker and will dictate the tempo of the game if allowed.

In Lee Cattermole and Didier Ndong, Grayson has two players who will happily take on the energetic pressing directive from Simon Grayson, who is eager to give fans the hard running side he thinks they crave. Shutting down Huddlestone’s passing range would be a fine place to start.

3. Exploit uncertainty at the back...

In terms of opening Derby up, the key may be testing a new-look defence. Cyrus Christie’s move to Middlesbrough means they have lost a fine attacking right-back, even if Andre Wisdom looks to be a canny replacement.

Curtis Davies joins Richard Keogh in a partnership heavy on experience but light on pace, while highly-rated Max Lowe is injured at left-back.

If Sunderland can get the ball to Aiden McGeady and Lewis Grabban high up the field, they will test their opponents in one-on-one situations. The big question mark is how fit those two are for competitive Championship action.