Sunderland boss faces huge week, Will Grigg misfires again and time to ditch 4-4-2: Six things learned from limp Southend defeat
Sunderland’s league campaign ended with back-to-back defeats and the club’s lowest ever league finish.
Here’s what we learned from the 2-1 defeat to Southend United at Roots Hall.
If Sunderland play like this again another season in League One beckons.
On current form, it is hard to see how Sunderland will win promotion this season.
Their form has been erratic in recent weeks and has culminated in ending the league campaign with back-to-back defeats to Fleetwood Town and Southend United.
Sunderland bossed the first half against Fleetwood but were dire second half and carried that form into Southend.
Just one win in seven for the Black Cats heading into the play-offs. They need a spark from somewhere to reignite their promotion hopes.
Sunderland have won just SIX points from 21
Post-Wembley Sunderland put Accrington Stanley and Rochdale to the sword and hopes were high then of securing automatic promotion, especially with two games in hand over Barnsley.
But since then Sunderland have picked up just six points in seven games, a win over Doncaster Rovers with three draws against Burton Albion, Peterborough United and Portsmouth.
For a side hoping to win promotion, their form is poor and the past two performances, the first half at Fleetwood aside, have been dire.
Sunderland are a side lacking confidence, rhythm, momentum, positivity, goals and they keep giving away soft goals at the other end. A recipe for disaster.
Jack Ross changes his formation and system again.
One of the criticisms aimed at Jack Ross this season has been that he doesn’t know his best side - or system.
Four changes were made for the Southend trip, most of them, in fairness, enforced with Lewis Morgan missing with concussion and George Honeyman out with a knee complaint.
Lee Cattermole and Aiden McGeady, nursing a fractured foot, rested.
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Sunderland, though, haven’t had a settled side for weeks now and the lack of consistency in selection is mirrored in the results.
Ditch the 4-4-2.
It doesn’t work. Sunderland were forced into pumping aimless long balls forward against Southend and they were easy to defend against.
When they switched to a 4-3-3 system second half Sunderland attacked with more purpose, creativity and energy with the introduction of Luke O’Nien and Kaz Sterling.
Playing 4-4-2 they looked rigid and barely threatened the Southend defence. Ross needs to go back to his favoured 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 for the play-offs.
Will Grigg misfires again.
It is a real worry for Sunderland, the form of deadline day signing Will Grigg.
He has barely laid a glove on opposing defenders in recent weeks and heading into the play-offs is showing no signs that he will be the man to fire Sunderland to promotion.
Yes he has an ongoing ankle injury but Ross hasn’t hid behind the fact the experienced and usually prolific frontman needs to do more.
Him and Lynden Gooch were hooked early at Southend, no surprise after another disappointing performance from the duo.
Neither have taken their chance this week and will likely find themselves out the side for the play-offs.
Big week ahead for Jack Ross
The Scot has to lift his players this week following a disappointing week on the road, with Sunderland limping into the play-off places.
They ended up fifth. A win at Southend would have seen them finish third and facing Doncaster Rovers in the play-offs, with the home leg second.
Yet they managed to end up in fifth and facing Portsmouth, a side they have yet to beat in three attempts this season.
A pivotal week lies ahead for the club and Ross faces his biggest task yet getting Sunderland firing on all cylinders ahead of the visit of Pompey.