Thursday’s win against Bury was a gritty, determined result that should do a lot to lift spirits at the club. It wasn’t the prettiest game in the world by any means, yet the Lads showed fight, spirit and flashes of quality as they eased past Lee Clark’s Shakers with little resistance. Today, however, Grayson’s men face a much sterner test as they travel to East Anglia to face Daniel Farke’s Norwich - a side tipped to do well this season.
Norwich drew their opening fixture against Fulham, and if you’ve seen the highlights from that game then I’m sure you’ll agree that Norwich were lucky to emerge with anything, such was Fulham’s dominance. Nélson Oliveira rescued the Canaries late on, though his celebration was interesting to say the least, and shows perhaps some small signs of discontent within the squad.
Whether Farke’s men will improve upon that performance remains to be seen, but with important players, Timm Klose and Alex Pritchard out injured - Sunderland will be keen to try and inflict some misery at Carrow Road as they look for a result on the road.
Simon Grayson on the other hand is a battle-hardened Championship manager who will have learned a lot from his side’s victory on Thursday night. In his pre-match press conference Grayson was quick to point out just how impressive George Honeyman has been in the opening couple of fixtures:
It can rub off on the other players when you see players running around, working hard and playing that style of football. Others players can feel the infectiousness of what he’s transmitting to them.
Hopefully that continues because he’s a good kid, willing to learn. He knows he’s got a lot of work still to be done but he fits into that category of players who are adaptable. At Bury he started on the right, went to the left at one stage, then back across to the right. He’s done what he’s done and hopefully he keeps performing like he has been doing.
Indeed fans will certainly expect to see Honeyman’s name on the team-sheet today after a good performance against Derby last week was followed up by a superb display against Bury on Thursday. His adaptability and energy were duly noted by Grayson, but his overall play is very impressive. He keeps the ball well, makes purposeful runs and isn’t afraid to try and beat his man.
With Honeyman on one flank and McGeady on the other, Sunderland have an attacking purpose that isn’t one dimensional. Both players are industrious and can operate on the touchline or further infield, but if Sunderland want to find a more clinical edge they must play with two strikers.
Thursday's experiment using Wahbi Khazri as a number ten just didn’t really work, and while it’s a nice option to have I think Sunderland should stick with playing both Grabban and Vaughan up front. Their pace, physicality and general movement caused Derby real problems, and I think Norwich might struggle to cope with them.
For Grayson and co. today’s game is a chance to build on the flickerings of momentum that have sparked into life over the last couple of games - something Grayson is eager to harness in an attempt at finding success:
We’ve got to build small bridges as we go along and keep progressing in a manner that’s fit for this football club at this moment in time but to me promotion’s got to be the aim of it all. You see the money and the players moving around and coming to the Premier League, it’s where everyone wants to be.
But we are where we are and we’ve got to make sure we do the right things on a regular basis so that some time in the near future we’re back up there again.
Grayson confirmed that both Billy Jones and Lee Cattermole will be fit to face the Canaries while Josh Maja is still recovering from a knock to his knee and more than likely won’t be involved.
Rodwell is still likely unavailable, and McNair and Watmore are still out injured though they should be back in contention in a few weeks time - much to Grayson’s delight:
Watmore coming back would be like a new signing, he is held in high regard at this club and would give us something different.
I think it (the forward line) is an area of the pitch where need to strengthen because it’s where it really matters at the top end of the pitch. People who can make things happen out of nothing and score goals are what you want, but it is never that easy. I still think this window will be one where a lot of ins and out across the country happen in the last week.
When asked about Papy Djiliobodji’s absence from the matchday squads, Grayson stated quite clearly that the Senegalese defender simply isn’t in his plans right now:
He's available, we just think that two centre-backs plus John O'Shea are in a better position at this moment in time... it’s not a fitness thing.
SAFC’s Starting XI: Steele, Jones, Browning, Kone, Galloway, Ndong, Cattermole, McGeady, Honeyman, Grabban, Vaughan.
Score: I think it’ll be a difficult game today, but I fancy us to come away with another hard fought win. The grit, battle and determination witnessed in the last two games has been really impressive and the quality will come with a little more time. I’m going for a 2-0 win.