Sunderland are finding that a big wage bill and Premier League experience counts for little in the Championship

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Despite being blown out of the water when it came to transfer fees spent, the tentative hope that Sunderland could compete for a play-off spot this season came largely from the fact that their wage bill would remain one of the highest in the division.

It runs at less than half of the level stated in the most recent accounts, but is still significantly in excess of many of the 11 teams who have so far got a positive result against the Black Cats this season.

It is a pertinent point because generally speaking wage spending has always been seen as a more reliable indicator as to who will succeed than fees paid to other clubs for players.

Of course, it is true that Sunderland’s limited budget when it came to permanent signings has left the squad short in some areas, and forced them to pursue low cost players who have been unable to hold down a regular first team place in recent seasons. The knock-on effect of that in the short-term has been a lack of match fitness, regular niggles that have stopped the team establishing any sort of continuity and therefore identity.

That has not been helped either by the conveyor belt of changes to system and selection from a manager searching for solutions to problems that he has perhaps not yet faced in his admittedly long managerial career.

After an opening run of games in which the XI stayed the same, Sunderland have lost control of their season and the team has at times looked to be drifting, the football aimless and the defending haphazard; Premier League players eating up the majority of the wage bill struggling to succeed against less heralded opposition.

The Cardiff City side sitting high in the table and who swatted Sunderland aside with relative ease featured just three players with Premier League experience.

Of Sunderland’s cohort, how many can, and should, be considered automatic starters when they travel to Griffin Park on Saturday? Very few.

The problem is embodied by the struggles in central midfield, an area where the Black Cats have a large amount of money tied up in wages but are being outplayed on a regular basis by seemingly more robust opponents.

They are far from the first club to suffer this problem after dropping into the second tier. Cardiff themselves assembled what some locals called ‘the best Championship squad ever’ on a massive wage bill, only to find that it was unbalanced, lacking direction and leadership.

Alex Neil, now thriving with Grayson’s young, driven Preston squad, found the same as he wrestled with Norwich’s relegation, admitting after his sacking that he had struggled to motivate his players to adapt to their new reality.

It is these squads that Simon Grayson has built his reputation on upsetting, defying traditional assumptions about wage spending and the value of Premier League experience in the notoriously tough second tier.

Too often this season, he has found the boot firmly on the other foot.

It is a balancing act that will take plenty more transfer windows to iron out, but in the short-term the fact remains that the squad is woefully under performing from the quality and level of experience it possesses.

This was never going to be an easy season but thus far both manager and players have been found wanting.