Wise Men Say: Black Cats must keep their focus for Villa trip

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After a morale boosting draw with Swansea City at the weekend, Sunderland found themselves involved in a bizarre, but ultimately victorious match with League 2 side Exeter City on Tuesday night.

The 6-3 win was nothing if not entertaining, though the defending for the Exeter goals will have left Dick Advocaat with more food for thought than those scored by his own players.

The Swansea performance was characterised by a back to basics, hardworking display, where Sunderland were able to create a few decent chances without allowing an accomplished opposition to fashion too many of their own.

Granted, the Welsh side did hit the post and force Costel Pantillimon into a number of excellent saves, but given the previous two horrendous defeats and the moribund atmosphere surrounding the build-up, there was much to be satisfied with.

Why then the sudden return to defensive suicide against a side who had no right to be scoring three times on Premier League soil?

Were Sunderland not prone to these horrendous defensive lapses, it would be easy to write off as a freak occurrence.

Unfortunately, the defending was a reminder of how poor it had been against Leicester City and Norwich City, only against vastly inferior opposition.

Perhaps there was some complacency; at 2-0 Danny Graham fashioned a wonderful opportunity for himself to put the game out of sight, only to place his shot wide. There were players in better positions to finish the chance off, but few would have begrudged him going for goal, with nobody expecting what was to follow and everyone desperate for him to score his first home goal in red and white.

After that, the defending was anything but back to basics as Exeter dragged themselves first back to 2-2, then improbably to 3-3 after falling 3-2 behind.

The defending was lacking in anything like basic knowledge of football and was quite astonishing to witness.

Although Advocaat’s men coasted to victory in the second half, this sort of capitulation simply cannot be allowed to continue.

If Sunderland were a little more defensive against Swansea, with concerns about their pace and ability to retain possession at the forefront of everyone’s minds, then Advocaat was correct to open up against a side from the basement level of the football league.

As a result of the performance, there will no doubt be a return to a solid, cautious approach against Aston Villa on Saturday.

That’s not to say this wasn’t a more fun Sunderland to watch than in recent years, with the added bonus of exciting cameos from Duncan Watmore – who again found himself on the scoresheet – and Lynden Gooch.

However, Villa – who themselves conceded three times against lower league opposition on Tuesday – will be a tougher proposition.

Any lapses in defensive concentration will not go unpunished and unlike against lowly Exeter, Sunderland will find it much harder to respond with the number of goals required to draw let alone win.

H The Wise Men Say podcast is available every Monday, with SAFC debate from a variety of guests and post-match reaction. You can stream it direct from wisemensay.co.uk or subscribe to it on iTunes.