The pressure is on both Simon Grayson and his players to perform this evening but unfortunately this is the position that they have placed themselves in - losing easily three times on the belt against teams perceived to be weaker than ourselves has only added to the overall gloom surrounding Wearside at present and on Saturday it felt like something was finally beginning to snap.
Nobody can say that, collectively, they didn’t try against Sheffield United, nor could we possibly claim that they weren’t capable of better. But something just wasn’t right, both in the stands and on the pitch. Fans of this club are rightly fed up of where we are at, and the nature of the vitriolic atmosphere in the Stadium once Clayton Donaldson tucked away his second goal of the afternoon was perhaps as bad as it has been in our home ground since the place opened twenty years ago.
The only way that things can even begin to be put right is if the players - and our manager - thrive on the pressure to succeed and actually allow their quality to shine through. Nobody can deny that we have a team capable of scoring goals or keeping clean sheets, yet in recent weeks we’ve failed to do just that because for whatever reason things just haven’t clicked in to place yet. Tonight that all has to change.
I listened in awe yesterday night as our former gaffer Sam Allardyce presented his management blue-print to the world on Monday Night Football, and he explained that the first thing he does when he arrives at a struggling club is to stress the importance of keeping clean sheets. Once you start concentrating on keeping goals out at one end they’ll almost naturally go in at the other, and I feel that Sunderland - and Simon Grayson - could, right now, learn from the simplicity of what Big Sam was describing.
We’ve conceded seven goals in our last three league games and have yet to keep a clean sheet all season, despite possessing an evidently quality central defender in Lamine Kone and an able deputy in Tyias Browning.
I’m fine with both of those players, but in Marc Wilson we have yet another player who has proven Premier League quality, and maybe dropping Browning in order to add some much-needed top-flight solidity to our defence is what is needed. That said, I don’t worry about our ability through the middle. But at full back... we’re not good enough, and that has to change. Teams are deliberately targeting Brendan Galloway for a reason - because he’s shit.
So, maybe a re-structured backline containing Oviedo, Wilson, Kone and Jones tonight is what is required in order to ensure our leaky defence give the rest of our team the best possible chance of scoring the goals needed to win the game.
Regardless, whoever Grayson selects has to know their role in his system or we’ll just see yet another performance like the one on Saturday. Playing five at the back, hoofing long balls forward and expecting our midfield to be able to hang on to possession just isn’t going to work tonight and a return to simplicity - perhaps in the same manner that Big Sam had us performing in only eighteen months ago - will see the players give the type of performance that the fans want to see.