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Grayson’s Anatomy: Preston - Was he right to be cautious? Was it his fault we dropped points?

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Now that the dust has settled, and the draw at Preston has passed, it’s time to assess the Sunderland manager’s performance. How did he do?

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Team Selection: Bold

With the pressure on Sunderland to succeed having been on such a bad run of form, Simon Grayson opted to select a fairly cautious side for the game at Deepdale.

Five changes were made - out went Lamine Kone, Bryan Oviedo, Marc Wilson, Darron Gibson and Callum McManaman, and in came George Honeyman, Lynden Gooch, John O’Shea, Didier Ndong and Tyias Browning.

The decision to put Adam Matthews at left back again in place of Bryan Oviedo raised eyebrows, but in fairness to the Welsh defender he performed admirably despite being asked to play out of position.

Dropping Lamine Kone was a bold move, and Grayson probably deserves credit for putting his best defender on the bench. The fact is that despite the Ivorian’s ability he’s not committed enough and the lack of leadership we have when he makes up part of our back line is telling. In his place was John O’Shea who gave a decent performance, and added some much-needed assurance to a defence that has sorely needed it for months now.

I would have preferred to have seen Sunderland play a more expansive style, with perhaps Oviedo and McManaman starting the game, but Simon Grayson was clearly conscious of going up against his old side with all-guns blazing and instead opted to select a team that he hoped would stop leaking goals. Unfortunately, his side still weren’t able to fully reverse the rot - despite the three defensive changes that the Sunderland manager had made.

Verdict: Not sure why he keeps playing people out of position. Otherwise - meh.


Tactics: Cautious

As I alluded to earlier, Sunderland clearly set out to frustrate Preston and the team selection showed that Grayson wanted to go there and see a good defensive performance from his side.

In the first half the game plan worked - putting energetic players around James Vaughan proved fruitful, and a combination of play between the forward and Lynden Gooch led to George Honeyman scoring a very good opening goal.

Then, half-time came. Alex Neil’s side reemerged energised and had Sunderland on the back foot from the off - I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not Grayson had re-stressed the need to get through the half unscathed, ordering his side to sit tight and defend their lead. It certainly seemed that way, and we only started to get at Preston again once we fell behind in the game.

That said, we weren’t helped by some poor refereeing - on another day, their keeper probably gets sent off and we get a couple of penalties. But... what do you get for being unlucky? F**k all. We had other chances which we should have put away.

Verdict: You could see the plan, but we still conceded poorly. Hard to judge.


Substitutions: Varied

After throwing our well-earned lead away, Grayson introduced secret weapon Duncan Watmore in a bid to get us back in the game and in truth it was the perfect option for us to have off the bench. We reverted to a direct style, trying to get in behind with Watmore chasing down the loose balls, and he caused all kinds of problems - it’s great to see him back.

Jonny Williams - who has been out of the team having suffered badly from illness - came on towards the end of the game, but wasn’t really able to make an impact whilst Bryan Oviedo came on in place of Billy Jones for the last twenty minutes in order to re-establish some balance to the side.

I think that I would have liked to have seen Callum McManaman play the last thirty minutes or so. Once Aiden McGeady had put us level I felt we could have gone on to win the game if we had wanted to, and the introduction of McManaman down the right-hand side could have helped us to create further chances for James Vaughan and Duncan Watmore.

Otherwise - the subs Grayson made were alright, I suppose. I still think that he leaves it far too late to make changes, but that’s by the by.

Verdict: Glad to see Watmore back but McManaman should have got on.


Post-match Comments: Smart

The players certainly did what I asked them to do. We saw a reaction from the other night, we saw the players carry out the instructions asked of them and we had to do to them what they were going to do to us.

We certainly did that and every man who started and came off the bench contributed to what was an exciting game. I thought we were comfortable in the first half. They came back into the game and we were on the back foot but we responded well.

We wanted to pick a team that we thought might hurt them. We looked a threat and George (Honeyman) has been really good all season while Lynden (Gooch) has earned the right to start the game.

When we went behind there was a good atmosphere but we didn't crumble. We responded and got over the little storm and ultimately scored a great goal from McGeady to get us back in it.

Grayson was obviously going to speak confidently about the performance, and I can understand why - he’s got to try and win back the faith of the supporters and he needs to foster a more positive atmosphere for the players to operate in so that down the road they can start winning games.

I guess it’s easy to focus on the negatives of the performance, particularly as we’ve been on such a rotten run recently, but if we’re going to get out of this mess we need to play with more confidence.

Verdict: Hopefully we can build on the positives against QPR in just under a fortnight.