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Onwards & upwards? Grayson bemoans issues he had at Sunderland & stats prove how bad it’s been

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Simon Grayson has been speaking to Sky Sports and identified Sunderland’s issues in defence and a mental fragility as the main reasons for his failed tenure at the Stadium of Light.

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Simon Grayson is rapidly proving to be one of the more vocal ex-Sunderland managers to justify his inability to get results at the Stadium of Light.

The 47-year-old has already appeared on BBC FiveLive to discuss his three months in post as Black Cats boss and has followed it up with an interview with Sky Sports today.

Grayson said little that he hasn’t previously, and pointed to the failures of other notable managers who were unable to make a success of the Sunderland job before him.

Brentford v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Simon Grayson
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

But at least the former boss recognised some of the issues he brought on himself during his fifteen league matches in charge of Sunderland - namely being unable to settle on his best starting eleven or indeed on a stable defensive line-up; not helped of course by his signing of two apparently below-par goalkeepers, neither of whom has been unable to establish themselves as No. 1:

We were not able to get a consistency of team selection. The goalkeepers, for example, we kept chopping and changing them. In an idea world you want your back five to be the same week in week out and we were not able to do that.

Between them, Ruiter and Steele have conceded 35 times in the league this season, the former averaging 1.7 goals per game against and the latter 1.8.

Only Bolton and Burton have let in more than the Black Cats, yet just eleven sides have actually scored more. That imbalance between attacking prowess and defensive solidity has dogged Sunderland - though last weekend’s shut-out at the Pirelli, with two unanswered goals scored, may yet hint at a breakthrough.

Robbin Ruiter
Image: Sunderland AFC

And the stats appear to prove the issue - as to just how bad it has been. The graph below (from the excellent footy stats website Experimental361) neatly demonstrates that Sunderland have, on average, conceded from half of the shots on goal they’ve faced this season. Only Hull, Burton and Bolton have been comparable in that regard. Indeed, the opposition have hit the back of the Black Cats net from every seven attempts - way worse than most sides in the Championship.

Sunderland’s position on the left hand side of the graph (just) indicates that the side are actually preventing the opposition from creating too much, yet the rate at which the goals are flying in hints at a tendency to collapse and probably proves the issue with the goalkeepers - they’re simply not saving enough of what comes at them.

As you can see above, Neil Warnock’s high-flying Cardiff are proving to be the most formidable defence in the Championship whilst last weekend’s defeated Burton side are notably the weakest.

Grayson went further to suggest there remains an ingrained negative mentality amongst “seven or eight” of the squad who suffered relegation from the Premier League and claimed that the losing mentality has continued to pervade the club:

I think we had a good squad, it was more of a mental issue with some of the players. One of the problems at Sunderland is that there are seven or eight of them who are still suffering the consequences of what has happened over the past two or three years.

The fragility in the side Chris Coleman has inherited is perhaps best illustrated in how quickly it takes an opponent to score. Again, only the two B’s - Bolton and Burton - are more inclined to hand their opponent the advantage sooner in the game than Sunderland.

And if this season has felt like one almighty slog, it’s sure proven by the fact that only one side has been behind in games for longer than Sunderland, and that just two teams have led games for less time - as the table below demonstrates.

With Coleman finally securing Sunderland’s second win of the season - in his second game in charge - surely the only way from here is up - isn’t it?

Next game is Reading at home. And with a Stadium of Light crowd accustomed to their side quickly falling behind and rarely leading, Saturday will prove a true test of whether the Black Cats can benefit from a new manager bounce and put the legacy of Grayson and Moyes behind them.