Team Selection: Confused
It was to the surprise of many that Jack Rodwell unaccountably found himself in the position to actually earn his wages on Saturday. A pure-chance glance of the ball in the dying minutes is no consolation for the dissolute fans.
Injuries to Cattermole and McGeady ensured that our midfield was completely sterile, and while debutants Wilson and Williams did a lot of running, exactly what positive change they can bring to the team on the pitch eludes us all in these early stages.
The selection was born of desperation and an urgency to re-construct this team into some semblance of a competetive Championship squad. One has to feel for young Duncan Watmore, who will no doubt be thrown straight in at the deep end when he recovers fully. No pressure.
Verdict: Absolutely no choice whatsoever, bar one: Jack Rodwell. Needs to make those big, uncomfortable decisions that remove wasters like Rodwell and trust in the commitment of the youngsters.
Tactics: Unprepared and overwhelmed
We saw a brief return to the 3-5-2 we 'tested' against Carlisle, and I can't say it was a strong display. Playing players out of position seems to be in the fashion for Sunderland, and watching any attacking impetus George Honeyman could muster diluted by his role at wing-back is enough to make you wince.
Simon Grayson isn't known for his tactical acumen, so expecting some kind of miracle on the training ground that adheres this squad to one another is quite naïve, to say the least. That said, now that his albeit meagre team is in place, all he can do is focus on developing a rapport between the players and working hard on team chemistry. What we saw against Sheffield United was as haphazard as it comes, and we've yet to see any sign of goals coming from all areas of the pitch.
Verdict: It will take time to bed in his squad and instill any kind of working identity. That said, we can't use winnable games as a testing ground to experiment tactically. Needs to truly recognise the limitations of our full-backs and attackers.
Substitutions: Precious little to work with
The introduction of Calum McManaman was met with yet more expectation, though his impact was short-lived, if energetic. John O'Shea and Lynden Gooch were introduced later, and the Irishman was caught ball-watching for the second goal, and the final nail in the coffin.
Grayson's timing when it comes to substitutions leaves room for concern. It's not the first time he's brought on fresh legs without the time, opportunity or ability to make a difference, and while we're certainly thin on the ground as a squad, there will be no reinforcement. What we have is what we have, and without efficient, shrewd management of the substitutes bench, we won't be able to turn a game on it's head. We're going in to every game now as the underdogs and the manager needs to use his instincts to great effect if we're to stand a chance.
Grayson has been in the job barely two minutes and you have to wonder if he’s already running out of ideas.
Verdict: Can't change his options, but must work on his timing and his choices lack any kind of ingenuity.
Post-match comments: Bog standard
It seems to be a little bit like Groundhog Day.
We started the game quite well, (we looked) bright, looked busy and from the attacking position we were in suddenly around the 20-minute mark we lost possession and they went up the other end and scored very quickly.
Watching the game myself, it was very apparent that Sheffield United would score that goal. I knew after ten minutes that that goal was coming (although I expected more of an effort from Ruiter) and no one was surprised when it went in. That isn't to say that our opponents dominated in any way, but their identity and their intent was clear from the off. They looked like they at least knew how to do the job, and ignoring the fact that your team never looked switched on from the very beginning is pointless, and reaching. But, no manager should overly criticise his team in these circumstances, so this response was to be expected. Expect much, much more of this in the months to come.
It took the confidence out of the players and it made it difficult.
People know it has been a very difficult place to play over the last few seasons but what we have got to do is stick together and scrape a win on Tuesday night. Then the confidence levels can come back.
There is no denying the players are affected by the confidence but you have got to roll your sleeves, make sure you work hard and do whatever is required to get over that hurdle.
They never had confidence to begin with, that much was obvious. The debutants at least seemed initially willing to give it a go, but their lack of match-fitness, preparation and composure in the melting pot that is Sunderland's current situation was the real reason behind their ineffectiveness. But, confidence can do wonders and it's certainly true that the manager has to find a way of instilling that if we're to have any hope of progress this year.
These are all things that you can expect to hear from the manager of a threadbare squad with no money and few prospects. He can't, or refuses, to openly question the lack of finance, but I don't think he can sustain many such runs of form without eventually, publicly, recognising the severe limitations put upon him. It's a case of when, not if.
Verdict: Stuck between a rock and a hard place.