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Talking Tactics: Grayson’s Norwich gameplan was executed perfectly; but how did we do it?

Sunderland might not be the Championship’s sexiest side this season but under Simon Grayson they’re currently looking tough to beat, full of enthusiasm and are working themselves into the ground. Here’s Talking Tactics!

Dan Abbott

Not even the most optimistic of Sunderland fans thought we were going to travel to Norwich, one of the best home sides in the division, and turn them over in such clinical fashion. Despite only having 28% of the possession, Sunderland goalkeeper Jason Steele was rarely troubled and Simon Grayson’s men looked a constant threat when going forward.

Here’s a few stand out points from a great afternoon at Carrow Road.


Vaughan & Grabban already look like a dangerous partnership

While there’s no denying that Sunderland still need to add at least one more striker to their squad, the players currently occupying the roles are giving a great service.

Grabbing two goals to add to his debut strike against Derby County, Lewis Grabban was once again on song for Grayson’s side. By capitalising on James Vaughan’s flick on and being perfectly placed for Aiden McGeady’s delicious cross, The Grabbs is already demonstrating that he has the fantastic habit of being in the right place at the right time. Some may call that luck, but timing a run so perfectly that you beat both defenders and the offside trap, and being so in tune with your teammate that he puts the ball right on your bonce, is no coincidence at all.

Love The Grabbs
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Getting in to these dangerous areas is made all the more easy when you have an absolute battering ram alongside you, who never stops working the opposition defence. We can already summise that James Vaughan isn’t going to be a prolific goalscorer on Wearside but if he can win the headers to create chances for others, his job is certainly being done.

To say he was a bastard for the Norwich defence to deal with would be seriously undermining the trauma he inflicted on them. Vaughan won more aerial duels than any other player on the pitch, all of which came in the opposition half. The best the Canaries could muster was Christoph Zimmerman winning three, only two of which were in the home side’s defensive half. It’s fair to say that Zimmerman was given quite the introduction to the typical physicality of a Championship centre forward.


Aiden McGeady. Just, Aiden McGeady. Woof!

When Aiden McGeady hooked up with Simon Grayson for another season we all expected good crosses, some silky dribbling and the occasional screamer. It seems that McGeady was keen to showcase all of these talents at Carrow Road, constantly bamboozling the Norwich defence.

I touched on it earlier when mentioning Grabban’s second but, while the former Norwich man put the ball in the net, it was McGeady’s flair that really made this goal possible. Step over, touch away from the defender - there you go Lewis, get your second. Cue limbs in the Carrow Road away end. So simple but so difficult to defend, especially when its done with such quality.

Quality is the optimum word when it comes to describing the wingers stunning strike to put Sunderland 2-0 up as well. Totally unfazed by yellow shirts approaching him from all angles, McGeady still found the composure to unleash and effort with little back lift, right into the top corner. Gorgeous. That won’t be something we see every week but to see such skill when under so much pressure is bloody lovely.

As Simon Grayson pointed out after the game, £250k for a player that constantly caused the opposition problems with his crossing and ability when running with the ball is an absolute bargain.

McGeady celebrates with the front two
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The insane confidence and assured play of Ty Browning

Is Tyias Browning really just 23 years of age?! He exudes confidence well beyond his years.

Up against Cameron Jerome and Marley Watkins, you would have expected Browning to have at least some shaky moments, given the experience both City strikers have at this level - and they’ll have bullied defenders far more experienced than him. Browning just swatted them away, though, and never looked phased at all, winning more aerial duels than Jerome, making three tackles and was level with Brendan Galloway in making the most interceptions, with five.

Browning battles every Canary in sight
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The amount of interceptions that he made is the most encouraging thing, though. It shows how highly developed his reading of the game is, a quality that doesn’t usually become so strong in a defender until much later in their career. This meant that, along with a good performance from Lamine Kone, Jason Steele was rarely tested even though the Canaries dominated possession.

It’s a shame that Browning is only on loan, as if he keeps up this level of performance, Everton will certainly want to develop him themselves next season. For now though, Sunderland look like they have a very good, hungry and young prospect in their side.


A two man midfield that plays like a three & the collective press

Just like against Derby, the two-man midfield of Lee Cattermole and Didier Ndong were more than a match for the opposition trio they faced. Ndong covered so much ground that you would have thought there were two of him, whilst Cattermole used his experience to block Norwich working their way through the middle.

The energy both players displayed makes you wonder if they ever sleep, because they certainly never look tired. With four tackles, Ndong made more than any other player and his total of four interceptions was only bested by Tyias Browning and Brendan Galloway. Off the ball, both he and Cattermole were vital in leading Sunderland’s pressing, as they allowed Norwich plenty of possession but, crucially, never allowed them to be effective with it.

Norwich City v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

Credit must go to Simon Grayson for employing this tactic. It would have been easy to deploy a three man midfield and just shut Norwich out by using sheer bodies but, instead, the manager knew his tireless duo would be more than capable of dealing with Daniel Farke’s men. Furthermore, it freed up the team to use an extra attacker and with Cattermole and Ndong doing the graft in the middle, it allowed the likes of Aiden McGeady and George Honeyman to express themselves.

The work of the midfield two embodied the spirit of the whole team, in a way. It wasn’t just our Teesside warrior and our cheesestring-haired battler that pressed Norwich into near suffocation. James Vaughan could often be seen in his own half, chasing down a marauding defender - he even ran the whole length of the pitch just to foul someone.

It’s doesn’t sound like much but Sunderland supporters love watching a team that are full of running and will graft for each other. It’s still very early in the season but this has been blindly evident in the opening games and if the team keep going with this attitude, they’ll be forgiven for any shortcomings by the supporters.