Sunderland substitutions show Simon Grayson’s challenge in delivering promised creative, athletic side

Hull City (stripes) 1-1 Sunderland AFC. 16-09-2017. FL Championship. Picture by FRANK REID
Hull City (stripes) 1-1 Sunderland AFC. 16-09-2017. FL Championship. Picture by FRANK REID

Most of the post-match remarks from Simon Grayson and Leonid Slutsky were made to reassure their fans that something better is coming.

Both sides showed glimpses of what they can do – Sunderland superbly organised and committed off the ball in the first half and adventurous on the counter.

In the second half, it was Hull who were able to show their potential, controlling the game and building a period of sustained pressure that has proved so elusive to the Black Cats on their home turf this season.

Slutsky believes that, after the next international break, he will know his best side and formation, and then his Hull team can show their true colours.

Grayson believes the return of Aiden McGeady and Duncan Watmore will give him the options he needs to build the creative and, crucially, quick, athletic team he has promised supporters since his arrival on Wearside.

Both know that their teams have been caught on the hop this season, struggling for consistency and slipping up against more cohesive units.

Both will hope that their late-summer signings will began to make the difference, but thus far parachute payment budgets have been no match for sides with momentum, stability and organisation.

Both know the anger still keenly felt after last season’s relegation, the unease and frustration with their club’s ownership, leaves them with a difficult task where defeat means far more than simply three points lost.

For Grayson, Saturday’s draw, perhaps a good result in isolation, has presented another problem. His substitutions have been criticised as negative, for surrendering the initiative in the game and allowing Hull to take control and get the equaliser.

It is a harsh analysis, though the anger at a lost lead is understandable.

After sitting too deep at the start of the second half, the quality of Jonny Williams and Callum McManaman allowed Sunderland to get back into the game and the latter went close after again showing his excellent ball control in the box.

With both still edging towards match fitness, and with Lewis Grabban and McGeady already on the sidelines, the Black Cats boss decided not to gamble on losing yet more bodies and quickly replaced the pair.

The replacements, Jack Rodwell and Billy Jones, forced Sunderland deeper and, before long, James Vaughan – who had nodded home McManaman’s excellent cross for Sunderland’s opener – was isolated and his side offered no threat, even on the counter.

If Lamine Kone’s deflection meant that David Meyler’s Hull equaliser was unfortunate, then it was certainly not surprising and as at Hillsborough, the inability to turn good spells into a 90-minute performance has cost them.

Hull, meanwhile, were able to use their bench to change the game, without even calling upon the services of talented new acquisiton Jackson Irvine.

In mitigation, Grayson’s options on the bench were painfully limited, a trend at Sunderland long before this season and a reflection of the failure to progressively build a balanced squad over a number of windows.

Lynden Gooch was an option, certainly, but, in the league at least, he has yet to demonstrate his ability to hold and use the ball llike Williams did.

In the first half, Grayson showed that he can drill this Sunderland side off the ball, and his side showed that they will run the hard yards for him.

That bodes well, but the gap to the top widens and Sunderland cannot afford a lost season.

The Black Cats boss will know he needs to make good on his attacking promise sooner rather than later.