The verdict on Chris Coleman’s first Sunderland games and four key conclusions

Sunderland's management team of Chris Coleman and Kit Symons.
Sunderland's management team of Chris Coleman and Kit Symons.
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Chris Coleman had insisted he knew what he was walking into at Sunderland, and Saturday’s latest home implosion will have underlined it.

It was a strange afternoon, unquestionably transformed by the bizarre red card picked up by Callum McManaman.

Had he converted without the use of his arm, Sunderland could have gone into the break in a superb position to end their home duck and further boost the mood that was transformed by the win at Burton Albion.

As it happened, Sunderland’s old failings ended up being laid bare once more as the defence switched off, the midfield folded and the attack floundered.

Three games in and Coleman has seen some promising signs, a good response from his squad to a stark change in footballing philosophy, but also enough errors and shortcomings to see that this season is a relegation fight and beating it will not be a formality.

He has also had to contend with an injury crisis and there is no doubt his starting XI would have looked very different had the likes of Jonny Williams and Duncan Watmore been available.

So far he has found a good balance in his public discussions, talking up the positives but making it clear that whether it be in selection, training or pre-match routines, he will do whatever it takes.

We take a look at the big talking points from Coleman’s time in charge so far...

A new keeper still a priority

Coleman has talked up both of his goalkeepers but a short-term fix in January is still a priority.

Teams can succeed without an outstanding goalkeeper but it is a rarity, and it is no coincidence that in Sunderland’s promotion seasons of late they have invariably had consistency between the goalposts.

Coleman made a brave and good call in persisting with Ruiter for the Aston Villa game, and was rewarded with a clean sheet days later at Burton Albion.

Ruiter has shown he has the capacity to bounce back from errors and as Coleman looks to encourage his side to play out from the back, the Dutchman probably has the edge in that department.

Modou Barrow’s tame goal in the 3-1 defeat at the weekend, however, showed that it is a department in which Sunderland are still vulnerable.

In both the short and long term, there is no bigger step Coleman can take to arrest the slide than to make a successful signing in this position. If Danny Ward can be tempted away from Liverpool, even if only for a few months, it could make all the difference.

Coleman’s strategy has plenty of plus points... but two key drawbacks

The frustration with the slow approach in the first half against Reading was understandable, but it has been refreshing to see Sunderland approach games with a clear philosophy.

On too many occasions early in the season the players looked confused and lacking clarity.

Coleman will also hope that as he gets more time with his squad on the training ground, confidence will grow and the speed of their attacking will increase, making them far less predictable than they were on Saturday and against Aston Villa.

There are two hurdles that they will have to overcome, however, and it may take a change of personnel in the transfer market to achieve it.

The spine of the side still lacks pace and that makes the team seriously vulnerable to the counter-attack, picked off by Reading and Aston Villa for the crucial first goals in the two defeats to far.

On top of that, the two centre-backs and the deepest midfielder, who will likely play more passes than anyone as the transition to a new style begins, are not natural ball-players.

The gulf in quality to the players Coleman had in those positions for Wales, Ashley Williams, Ben Davies and Joe Allen, is stark.

A big selection decision looms...

Callum McManaman’s suspension solves one selection dilemma for Coleman in the next game, but an even bigger call looms on the other flank.

Aiden McGeady gave the ball away in a crucial area and could not recover in time to prevent Reading going one ahead on Saturday, and after a richly promising start this season, his output has declined dramatically.

Early in Simon Grayson’s tenure his creativity more than justified his free role, but at the moment Sunderland can’t afford any passengers and Coleman might have to act.

Joel Asoro has been a breath of fresh air with his pace and bravery on the ball and the calls to include him will only get louder should the Black Cats continue to struggle.

Pace, end product and discipline going the other way are key in the wide areas and at the moment Sunderland aren’t getting it.

The Black Cats can’t lose Grabban

His goals are one of Sunderland’s only lifelines at the moment, even if there are question marks over his pressing.

Certainly, the contrast between his approach and the hard-running seen from Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes for Coleman’s Wales side is obvious.

As such, Coleman may be the perfect man to get more out of James Vaughan but Grabban’s composure in front of goal and the quality of his movement off the ball marks him out as absolutely crucial.

In Sunderland’s financial state it is probably not a commodity they can afford to replace.

Unless Coleman can get goals from other areas of the pitch, as he did at Burton Albion, he can’t afford to lose Grabban in January.