Team Selection: Grafters
The only real inclusions that raised any eyebrows were those of Jason Steele between the sticks and George Honeyman playing wide-right. With Josh Maja injured, Vaughan and Grabban were always going to start; Wahbi Khazri was consigned to the bench after recovering from a knock while Robbin Ruiter hadn’t had enough training time to start, according to Grayson.
It was apparent from the first whistle that the entire Sunderland squad were determined to fight for every ball, and what an incredibly refreshing change that made! The midfield two were everywhere and nullified the threat of Johnson and Huddlestone and, although the defence were shaky at times, they grew into the game.
Combined with this gritty tenacity was the fact that in Aiden McGeady, George Honeyman and Lewis Grabban we had genuine quality going forward. McGeady was superb throughout (other than trying to roulette out of his own third), but George Honeyman was impressive at times also. He showed some wonderful touches and kept the ball very well; it will be interesting to see if Grayson opts for him or Khazri going forward.
Verdict: Thoroughly impressive line-up with other players yet to return to full fitness. Grayson has got the lads’ attitudes spot on, and that’s exactly what we wanted to see.
In the early stages of the game, Sunderland seemed content with knocking long passes into the channels for Grabban to pursue, or for Vaughan to try and flick on. I must admit I was a bit worried after the third or fourth punt, but as the game grew I could see the value in that tactic.
Sunderland pressed all over the pitch, and often won the ball in promising positions; in fact, Grabban’s chance that hit the post came from some good pressure by Lee Cattermole. Whenever Sunderland won the ball back they looked to move it wide, or into the front men’s feet who would then look to find a winger or full-back on the overlap. As the game grew this was clearly our preferred tactic and certainly looked the most threatening. It was great to see Sunderland players play, fast, direct, attacking football and in all honesty we could have banged in several goals such was the quality in our play.
Coming back to the long balls, however, they certainly had a place in Grayson’s system. Whenever Derby tried to smother our passing game, Sunderland would try and catch them off guard with a long pass into Vaughan and Grabban - it spoke of a system with several layers, and that is something we’ve missed for years. We were proficient playing both a shorter passing game as well as a more direct one, and that’s vital for any successful side.
Verdict: Very pleasing to see the Lads buy into Grayson’s ideas from the get-go, hopefully they will continue to improve.
It was interesting to see Grayson opt against making any substitutions, and it left a few people furrowing their brows. If truth be told though, the game was so close in the final stages that Grayson was probably reluctant to tinker with shape or personnel, and that’s understandable.
As Grayson learns more about his squad and his players’ mentalities, he will undoubtedly begin to make changes throughout the game. Let’s not forget that this is still very much a side in the process of finding its best XI; Grayson needs time and patience if he is to find success.
The energy of Khazri and Gooch can certainly be utilised in future games, as too could the pace of young Joel Asoro who would be a great addition against tiring legs. Darron Gibson will also likely be used in the coming weeks despite his lacklustre attempts at enhancing public relations.
Verdict: Early days yet, but Grayson needs more time to fully understand his players. Maybe could have used Khazri and Asoro, but perhaps didn’t want to upset the balance.
Post-Match Comments: Pragmatic
Grayson sent a jab aimed at Darron Gibson’s drunken tirade, using it as a yardstick with which he could measure the player’s performances:
Things have happened this week and people have been questioned about their desire and hunger of the club. There were 11 committed players out there desperate to run for every ball, to challenge for every ball and do whatever is required to get a result. Testament to that is the supporters gave them a big round of applause when they ran and chased and we got the point.
He then went on to reiterate the point that it’s all about getting the basics and hunger back in order to find positive results:
Hopefully we will put together a committed group of players who want to work for the shirt, that will be honest as they can be and somewhere down the line give the supporters something to cheer about. That is all we want the players to do, the basics. That is a given normally and players have shown that in abundance.
He also noted that the club need to move forward slowly and surely if we are to find continued success:
It will be a slow process, but what we have got to do is take positive steps in everything that we do. Tonight is a platform to build on, I don’t have a magic wand that I can suddenly turn this football club into a real, positive happy-go-lucky club and suddenly we will be playing free flowing football. We have to earn the right and the victories we are going to get. Ultimately it is about small steps. The point was the least we deserved – we were very good in many different ways.
Grayson is a pragmatic man, but he certainly isn’t negative; this definitely will be a learning process and it won’t be accomplished in a matter of days.
Verdict: Fair comments from Grayson who is pragmatic without the horrendous negativity often found with David Moyes last season. Impressed with his persona as well as the result in general.