Team Selection - Close, but no cigar
Grayson lined the team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation once again, making two changes to the side threw away a vital away win to fellow strugglers Brentford. Darron Gibson and Jonny Williams were selected in midfield, replacing Lee Cattermole and George Honeyman.
Dropping Cattermole was a welcome sight; he and Didier Ndong simply cannot play together and his performances since the Derby game on the opening night of the season warranted such a change. However, Darron Gibson has simply proved he is neither good nor fit enough to play in the Championship and flattered to deceive. Paddy McNair may be unfit, but during such a vital sequence of games, it may have been worth the risk to start him. Honeyman has likewise come under a lot of scrutiny recently, and although performing relatively well this season and scoring numerous vital goals, a spell out of the team may be for the best.
However, why Simon Grayson continues to pick Jason Steele and Billy Jones is unfathomable to me.
Although trying to decide between our three right-backs is essentially a zero-sum-game, before he was dropped for the QPR match, Adam Matthews had performed well and contributed more to our attacks than Billy Jones has for much of the last eighteen months. Jason Steele sits alongside Kelvin Davis as one of the most uninspiring goalkeepers I have seen play at the SoL and incredulously has continued to keep his place in the team since the Ipswich debacle. He has about as much command of his area as Theresa May does Parliament, and continues to already rock the nerves of an already poor backline.
Verdict: Grayson’s continued baffling and unwarranted selections haunt every game, but at least he has finally realised we cannot play Cattermole and Ndong together in midfield.
Tactics - Unsuited
Some managers buy players in order to suit a system, others adapt to their playing squad and develop a game-plan designed to get the best out of said players. Simon Grayson has done neither of these.
He has, in fact, bought a squad woefully devoid of physicality in one of the most physically dominated leagues in the world, and developed a game-plan which brings out the worst qualities of the players he has both inherited and signed.
As the game wore on, we simply saw our technically gifted midfielders missed out of play altogether as the ball was repeatedly kicked long to an isolated Lewis Grabban, who would either simply not jump for a header or try, and naturally fail to win a high ball against Bristol City’s giant backline including the 6’1 Bailey Wright, 6’2 Nathan Baker and 6’5 Aden Flint. The latter is arguably the most effective player in the whole division at defending from a high-ball and is such a threat in the air himself, he has already scored 40 goals in his career - including three already this season.
Grabban - who once again proved his poaching instincts despite performing poorly as a whole - is unsuited to this style of play, and was often forced out wide in order to attempt to find space on the ball. The best period of play we had all game came in the second half before Milan Djuric’s winner, with Grabban linking up excellently with both Bryan Ovideo and Aiden McGeady and playing the type of football that we should have been playing all season. Both of these, Jonny Williams, Callum McManaman, Lynden Gooch and Honeyman et al are all players who would favour a more technical approach over such direct styles.
Individual quality has sometimes dug us out of the mire this season, but the complete lack of a game-plan was plain to see here more than any other. Lamine Kone being ushered up top at the end by John O’Shea is a microcosm of all our tactical problems. Every time we hit the ball upfield, it was almost immediately lost and instantly invited all pressure back onto our leaky defence.
Verdict: Long-ball football simply does not suit the players at Grayson’s disposal, and the sooner he realises this, the better.
Substitutions - Groundhog day
The definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This may simply be an overused cliche, however, week-in, week-out, Simon Grayson’s substitutions are only ever reactive to going behind. Maybe, just once, he will do what opposition manager Lee Johnson did in the second half. He reacted to the way the game was panning out, made three subs even before Grayson made his first, and one of the players he introduced even scored the winner.
Although both Williams and Watmore were significantly flagging in the second half due to fatigue and a general lack of fitness, substituting the pair removed all creative impetus within the team considering McGeady was anonymous for large parts. Replacing them with McManaman, James Vaughan and McNair essentially put to bed any chance of us scoring again. Bristol City is a very physical side throughout, and although Grabban did need more support, this was irrevocably not the way to change the game and merely played into City’s hands.
It was good to see Paddy McNair back playing in a Sunderland shirt, but when Lamine Kone, as aforementioned, was moved up front alongside Vaughan and Grabban, Ndong should never have been moved to centre back in order to accommodate McNair, an even more defensively inclined midfielder.
Verdict: Wrong substitutions all too late as usual.
Post-match comments - Alarming
We have lost another home game so I am not going to stand here and say they did well and their performance warranted a victory.
When you analyse the game there were certain things we did okay with but we probably didn’t do enough to win the game.
The biggest factor that can happen in a home game is getting that first goal.
Is this the same for our previous seven home games? We haven’t led at home since December 2016. Grayson hasn’t for fourteen games at both Sunderland and Preston.
We did a set play meeting yesterday, we went through the possibilities before the game with the players in the team meeting and ultimately a player who is 5’7 gets a free header in the box and that knocks the wind out of your sails.
Up until then I thought we did alright. We passed it and did okay at times, we limited them to a few opportunities but their goal obviously derailed us.
“Passed it”, only thirty yards or more.
We had a big boost before half-time but then we got done with a sucker punch.
The players have got to take responsibility for mistakes over the last few weeks.
The players have designated markers and they have got to make sure they get touch-tight to make sure they don’t contribute to an opportunity for the opposition.
Simon Grayson threw his players out to pasture throughout the whole interview, claiming he did have a game plan and they did not follow it as he outlined. I’d argue, on the evidence of yesterday, the players did not even know what his plan was in the first place.
During an injury to a City player in the second half, a whole host of seven to eight of their outfield players motioned towards Johnson and took a vast array of instructions. During this whole exchange, the Sunderland players stood motionless and alone, and not a single one was within 20 yards of an isolated Grayson on the touchline. Even when Lamine Kone was moved up front, it very much seemed like he was told to do so by John O’Shea, in an attempt to prove that neither Grabban nor Vaughan are target men.
Verdict: Castigating players for not taking responsibility while dodging all of his own responsibilities, is this drunk Darron Gibson in disguise?