Sunderland’s dire defensive record shows Simon Grayson’s side are less than the sum of their parts

Jason Steele takes a comfortable save in Saturday's draw at Brentford. Picture by Frank Reid
Jason Steele takes a comfortable save in Saturday's draw at Brentford. Picture by Frank Reid
0
Have your say

Sunderland may have stopped the losing rot, but three draws against Preston, QPR and Brentford reflect a side that is currently less than the sum of its parts.

There is plenty of individual quality and, at this level, the likes of McGeady, Watmore and Grabban mean the Black Cats always have a goal threat.

What they don’t have is convincing cohesion or consistency, something that Simon Grayson will know he is running out of time to fix.

There may have been a touch of fortune about Brentford’s three goals in Saturday’s 3-3 draw, but, in truth, all reflected in some way a side that is simply too easy to play against, too easy to carve open.

The third and final equaliser was a perfect example of that, the defender allowed to advance with the ball under no pressure, Florian Jozefzoon picking it up and gliding towards goal.

At least four Black Cats players were in his vicinity when he shot, but none were able to get close enough to stop the shot.

The last time Sunderland drew three games in a row, there was plenty of frustration as Sam Allardyce’s side looked like just missing out on Premier League safety in 2015-16.

In that spell, however, there were signs of a side coming together, the dam breaking in a pair of home games against Chelsea and Everton that rank as two of the finest in the Stadium of Light’s history.

The pace and scale of decline since then has been breathtaking, and leaves the latest incumbent in dire need of similar back-to-back wins.

Grayson’s appointment was made on the back of his rich experience at this level, and the feeling that he could stop the rot by building a side that first and foremost would be tough to beat.

Thirteen games in and there is little sign of that.

It’s a slight contradiction, of course, given that they are now unbeaten in three, but the more telling statistic is that their 25 goals conceded is the joint worst, alongside Burton Albion, in the Championship.

Given that Sunderland have at times fielded a back four all with Premier League and international experience, it is a desperately poor reflection of the work on and off the field.

The gap to the play-offs is now four wins and a draw, and it is interesting to see that is Norwich City that have climbed to sixth in the table after the kind of run many at Sunderland insist they are still capable of going on.

The Canaries shipped three against the Black Cats on the second day of the season, and four more against Aston Villa and Millwall in the subsequent games.

Since then, they have kept six clean sheets in nine, lifting them firmly into play-off contention and taking all of the pressure off boss Daniel Farke.

The platform in attack is almost there, with Watmore a constant threat down the right and Lewis Grabban playing superbly off the shoulder of the centre-backs.

The return of Jonny Williams in midfield and the gradual integration of Callum McManaman means that Sunderland should not be short of goals.

The concern remains their inability to hold possession for a period of time and their glaring weaknesses of the ball.

This campaign has started in alarming fashion, the manager clearly not helped by formerly Premier League players underperforming and being forced to rely on a transfer policy that, in the short-term, was always going to see new arrivals, short on football and fitness, pick up niggles and take time to adapt.

Nevertheless, the glaring deficiencies mean it is impossible to look at three draws with a glass half full mentality.

A crunch week looms, with home games against Bristol City on Saturday and Bolton three days later.