125 days. One league win. Equalling an unwanted English record. 10 points from 45.
Simon Grayson’s short tenure as Sunderland boss was not a happy one.
The former Preston North End boss took charge at the Stadium of Light on June 29 but he was sacked four months later on Halloween night following the 3-3 draw with Bolton Wanderers, a point not enough to convince the club’s hierarchy the dismal form was about to improve anytime soon.
Injuries, a huge turnover of players, a relegation hangover, financial restrictions were all obstacles facing Grayson but there was also question marks over his decisions, tactics and team selections.
Here we assess the key decisions that Grayson got wrong which led to his downfall.
Failing to decide on a No.1
Sunderland’s goalkeeping department was revamped - downgraded might be a more accurate phrase - following the sales of Jordan Pickford and Vito Mannone. In came Jason Steele and Robbin Ruiter.
Ruiter looked a real find during his trial but neither he or Steele have convinced, Steele’s confidence taking a hammering after jeers from the home support in recent games.
Twice he has been dropped. Ruiter was back in for Bolton and while he commanded his area with more authority he should have done better with Sammy Ameobi’s opening goal.
Ruiter has made seven appearances, Steele 11. Grayson’s tinkering didn’t help an already poor defence. Sunderland needed continuity.
Failing to sort out Sunderland’s defence:
Sunderland have shipped 30 goals, averaging two a game. A shocking stat.
Scoring goals hasn’t been a problem but keeping them out has, Sunderland have looked unorganised with a distinct lack of shape and leadership. They have been neither well drilled or effective.
The four defenders that started against Bolton are all full international players. Grayson was right to say the players should take more responsibility but he will look back on his time knowing his failure to tackle Sunderland’s defensive frailties was a key factor in his departure.
A theme under Grayson. He will rightly point to injury and illness for some enforced changes but there have been plenty of other occasions when changes were made for the sake of making a change in the hope it would inspire a victory. At the back for example, John O’Shea, Lamine Kone, Tyias Browning, Marc Wilson and Billy Jones have all played centre half.
Good sides are based on a good defence. Sunderland are neither but the amount of changes, restricting the chance to form partnerships, hasn’t helped. A settled back line is key.
Persisting with players not performing:
Lamine Kone. Lee Cattermole. Didier Ndong. Jason Steele. There are more.
All players that at various times during Grayson’s short tenure in charge were not performing and should have been dropped earlier than they were for the good of the team.
Failing to settle on a style that suited the players:
What was Sunderland’s style of play under Grayson? It is a hard one to identify. Too many long balls punted aimlessly forward towards Lewis Grabban in the hope he would create a piece of magic.
The three goals against Bolton were all well worked but Sunderland haven’t played to their obvious attacking strengths enough. The formation and system tweaked, often mid-match, led to confusion.
There was also questions marks throughout over his substitutions and the timing of them.