Sunderland’s propensity to concede the first goal in League One fixtures finally caught up with them on Saturday, with Burton Albion taking full advantage of defensive frailties that have repeatedly threatened to undermine our robust start to life in the third tier.
The result was the unsurprising culmination of a recent dip in form, which has coincided with the suspension of Max Power; his return to the Sunderland line-up cannot come soon enough.
As Jack Ross contends with an injury-hit squad while trying to determine the best tactical approach and starting XI, Power’s absence has been keenly felt.
Nonetheless, Ross was rightly unhappy with the performance levels shown in defeat at Burton. The team he selected was an attacking one, and with Sunderland’s defending having been questionable at best, it seemed he fancied his side to simply overpower the opposition by pressing high up the pitch and getting an early goal.
With the benefit of hindsight, he probably regrets leaving a disorganised defence woefully exposed by a diminutive midfield as Sunderland once again failed to match the physicality of their opponents.
Ross will have learned a lot about the players at his disposal and, just as significantly, what it takes to compete in this division.
I’m confident Ross will scrap Saturday’s experiment, take another look at what he has available, and sort things out for the visit of Rochdale on Saturday. He has plenty of options at his disposal and, as I said in this column last week, he should perhaps turn to 3-5-2, a system he has turned to during games on more than one occasion.
Utilising it from the start of a game would offer his side additional physical presence and height to contend with crossed balls.
Starting with three central defenders would also present Ross with flexibility, giving him the option of playing two strikers. Not only would this provide Josh Maja with much-needed support, it would do so without exposing the midfield and defence.
While the injury to Charlie Wyke reduces his options in attack, the likes of the returning Aiden McGeady, Chris Maguire, Lynden Gooch and Jerome Sinclair offer a variety of interesting alternatives.
Despite the disappointment of losing, fortunately, only Portsmouth remain unbeaten, their win at London Road ending Peterborough Utd’s undefeated start to the season.
Meanwhile, Barnsley and Walsall also succumbed to defeat as things remain tight at the top of the table.
A quick glance at last season’s league table after approximately the same number of games reveals the eventual winners and runners-up, Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers, to have already lost two and three games respectively.
That both sides were promoted relatively comfortably and have since made decent starts to life back in the Championship should encourage Sunderland supporters not to hit the panic button just yet.
That said, after two rotten seasons and successive relegations, things must improve quickly.