Another weekend, another Sunderland defeat. Perhaps that’s unfair, we have drawn a few of late, but not enough to keep this underperforming side from slipping to the bottom of the Championship table heading into the international break.
There were positives to be taken from the away slog at Middlesbrough, with a 1-0 defeat a tad harsh on Sunderland, but whoever takes over this squad will also have plenty to work on, and with, to get things right.
Sunderland were relatively tight at Boro, at least by recent standards, conceding just once, albeit in typically hapless fashion.
Aside from that moment, the usual defensive weakness was generally kept in check, with the side looking far more organised and better prepared than in the midweek draw with a dismal Bolton Wanderers.
The caretaker managerial duo of Robbie Stockdale and Billy McKinlay took a vastly different approach to Simon Grayson, with the team noticeably keeping the ball on the deck. Generally, Sunderland knocked the ball around with a fair amount of precision, if a little pedestrianly, creating a number of useful openings inside the first 20 minutes or so.
Once the team began to labour in the second half, the lack of pace and guile started to show.
Stockdale and McKinlay began the game with four central midfielders on the pitch, and while this undoubtedly contributed to Sunderland’s improved defensive solidity, it did hamper the side going forward, particularly as the game began winding down to its conclusion.
Unfortunately for the pair, injuries to Billy Jones and more significantly Didier Ndong, meant there options to change things were limited. However, with Sunderland chasing the game, the decision to bring on George Honeyman for Ndong, rather than say Callum McManaman or Jonny Williams, was a little too conservative.
Without those injuries, perhaps there was a masterplan to bring on more attacking players, particularly with pace, as the game entered its final quarter, and it was at least refreshing to see something resembling a game plan on Sunday.
Against inferior sides, Sunderland may well have dominated and won – whilst Boro were nothing special, they looked streets ahead of the likes of Bolton and Bristol City – so there is reason to be encouraged if nothing else.
This side really should not be at the bottom of the table, and any managers interested in the job will surely have seen that watching our performance on Teesside.
There are enough good players to mould into a team capable of more wins over the remainder of the season than we’ve mustered thus far.
We live in hope then, that for the first time since Sam Allardyce was appointed as manager, Sunderland get things right with their choice of manager – personally, I’d do everything to get Aitor Karanka – and we begin a march toward mid table mediocrity.