The three Sunderland players who highlight Chris Coleman’s impact after fine 1-0 win

George Honeyman in action against Nottingham Forest.
George Honeyman in action against Nottingham Forest.
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Just as it had to be pointed out in the aftermath of the woeful Sheffield United display that in the context Chris Coleman’s tenure it could be seen as an outlier performance, now too a word of caution is necessary.

This was a fine win but one that will only frustrate if not backed up against Barnsley.

A fine win, but one that could have been different had Daryl Murphy taken one of his numerous first half opportunities.

A fine win, though one that showed a touch more attacking quality is still needed in the squad to turn promising performances into a consistent run of results.

Still, once due caution is excercised, there was much in this display to hearten Sunderland supporters at the end of a torrid year and the start of a hopefully more enojable one.

After losing their shape so appallingly at Bramall Lane (and arguably in the last 20 minutes against Birmingham City), Sunderland here put back in place the building blocks that have seen them make steady improvements under the new manager.

They may only have produced one attacking moment in the game but what a moment it was, McGeady starting the move from the centre circle and playing in Maja.

He found Adam Matthews on the left whose audacious cross was headed home by the stooping Irishman.

In the second half, they were rarely opened up by their opponents and yet again, had a plan to secure a positive result.

That has been the case in almost every game since Coleman arrived and is the single biggest reason for optimism at the start of 2018.

His squad is still an unbalanced one but he is finding solutions, summed up by the performances of three players who are blossoming under his charge.

Darron Gibson was simply superb again.

Coleman has simplified his role in the team and crucially, minimised the amount of running he has to do.

The midfield is set up to allow him to initiate attacks, his strongest suit, and to allow him to pick his moments to press.

He is winning more tackles than any other Sunderland midfielder at the moment, a drastic change in fortunes from the first few turbulent months of his time on Wearside.

Alongside him, George Honeyman is growing into a box-to-box midfield role, showing his insatiable appetite for hard running and also his game intelligence, winning countless fouls and getting the ball away from dangerous areas to help his team.

The challenge for him in the new year is to deliver the key passes in the final third.

At left wing-back, Adam Matthews was a constant attacking threat again and his crossing is creating real opportunities for Sunderland.

Of course, it is not all down to the new manager.

All three are benefiting from the regular gametime they got in pre-season under Simon Grayson, having lacked regular first team football for so long previous.

Nevertheless, their form is a sign of the clarity and structure the new manager has brought.

January remains as crucial a month as it looked after the Sheffield United defeat and the clear signs of life from the other teams near the bottom of the table mean the path to safety is a long one.

Lose to Barnsley, and a familiar frustration will set in.

The curve is an upward one, however, and Sunderland supporters have every reason to feel optimistic that the drop can be beaten,

The squad is responding to a manager who is setting them up to get results.

A simple thing, but one that has been missing for so much of 2017.