Tactics: That cringey improv comedy show you never want to pay to see, but end up getting dragged to watch anyway
At some point in the last month Simon Grayson has clearly had what he considers an epiphany. Evidently he has found his preferred tactic, though if you're outside the dressing room it may very well seem like an exercise in futility.
Arraying this weak team against their organised and well-drilled opponents requires nothing less than total confidence, and assurances from the players that they can and will perform to the best of their ability in their chosen position.
The manager opted for five defenders at the back in the opening stages, with absolutely no strength up front to distract from the now remarkably obvious truth that you don't trust your defenders. After twenty or so minutes though, the concept of “formations” and “plans” seemed to simply fly out the window, and we reverted to a more simplified 4-4-2, at least that's according to the manager. Personally I'd have called it a 1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1.
Verdict: An example of one team's inability to adhere to one clear method, and execute it as if they're paid handsome sums to do so. See also: “failure”
Team Selection: Grayson's preferred XI...?
Though God himself only knows why, he chose to strike down McManaman and Williams - both of whom have had strong starts (comparatively) - on the morning of the match. Aiden McGeady only managed a late substitution. Suffice it to say no one was looking at the team with anything resembling confidence, and that lack of confidence was repaid in short time with a wholly ineffective performance from the home team. A surprise start for young Lynden Gooch did nothing to cement his starting berth, while Football aficionados will have been pleased by the complete absence of Jack Rodwell, at least.
I'm not sure if this has been mentioned at all before now, but Sunderland have a really thin squad, and whatever meat there is on that bone is barely worth a bite. If only there were specific opportunities in the old calendar, to bring in more players that can actually make a difference. We could call it the “Findy Footy Jobby Time” or something catchy like that. I imagine this fictitious event would require the exchange of something important and yet convenient, like something you could perhaps trade for goods and services. Rice, perhaps? Or bushels of wheat. Perhaps in this fantasy land we could take the given, obviously sensible and absolutely necessary opportunity to improve our squad?
It's a crying shame there is no such scenario. I feel like it would go down a treat with every single football club in the world. But you're living in a dreamworld, man.
Verdict: Poor enough to warrant heavy sarcasm.
Substitutions: Ineffective and poorly timed, again
It's difficult to keep beating the manager round the head with this because it very much falls under the heading of “Shouldn't have been a dipstick during the transfer window”, as above. There are no more opportunities for reinforcement until January and any changes Grayson attempts to make mid-game are wholly dependent on the abilities of those he brings on, as much as they are on his timing and the duties he gives those players.
For those of you with your back up because you believe he “had his hands tied” in the transfer window, ask yourself: if that's the case why did he come out and openly state that we had what we needed, and needed no more? Because it means he's either a liar or a fool. It can be both, but it's at least one of those two.
We've highlighted Grayson's substitution decisions every time now and it was the first complaint and hesitation I had about the manager. The hope was that given a few more games to settle, both for manager and team, his timing would become more natural and the changes would be more fluid, with recognisable impact on the game. The irony is that every single game has provided the opportunity for both manager and player to prove their worth in this regard, and all have so far failed. That isn't to say the blame can be placed on players coming back from injury, long-term layoffs or simply into a melting pot of disorganisation and pressure, because it can't. Therefore it lies squarely on the shoulders of the manager. It seems harsh, but it's fair.
We really should worry that even given the right players Simon Grayson wouldn't be capable of recognising the right time to bring them on, nor the effective manner in which to manage them when they get there.
Verdict: More than a passing concern.
Post-match comments: The opening paragraph of a drawn-out resignation letter?
I’m frustrated again. You look at things you prepare for a game - at 2pm this afternoon we showed the players a presentation of what Cardiff would do, long balls from the goalkeeper, flick-ons, runs from midfield, and showed them everything that Neil Warnock’s teams are all about. But before you know it, six minutes into the game, you are 1-0 down in precisely the manner you showed the players.
They have to take responsibility, they have to deal with situations, stay with runners, defend the first ball and do whatever is required to get a result because you always know how Neil Warnock’s teams are going to play, they are going to pressure you.
Simon my friend, I hate to be the one that tells you this but this, all of this, is your responsibility. You were given an account of the team in place before you arrived. You were given the opinions of everyone you could ask. You were given a budget to work with. You were given a transfer window. I don't want to hear you complaining about the players that you're supposed to forge into a team, just as I wouldn't want to hear a parent complain that they have no control over their child. If your kids are little monsters it's because you aren't rearing them properly.
“I showed them a video of the opposition, I don't understand why we keep losing!”. I mean really.
When you lose another game at home it is not easy to take, we started the game slowly, six minutes after we had done a presentation on a goalkeeper who would kick it out long and look for it to be flicked on with runners from midfield. We did nothing to stop that from happening.
Your responsibility. Please don't cry about it – tell us that you've identified the problem and will fix it.
We got off to a poor start but the formation doesn’t make you concede the goal. It is what you do with the first one and the second one after that. We decided to go 4-4-2 and we looked better because we stopped them from playing and we got tighter to people.
We asked more questions of them but we have to learn from the mistakes we have made because every time we are making them we are being punished.
It's almost as if there are eleven other people on the pitch that don't want your plan to work, eh? This idea of “being punished for mistakes” is no more a reason than stating that “actions have consequences”. You may as well state that the opposition tried to score and then scored as a result, and use that as the excuse for failure. Yes Simon, you're correct. That was indeed a game of Football.
Obviously we wanted results to be better, we wanted more positivity around the players and the performances, but again today we played well for quite a decent part of the game but then we make fundamental errors that we are getting punished for.
We all have to take responsibility for that.
Finally there, at the death, the manager admits his ultimate responsibility. Of all the comments made post-match, these final statements are the ones spoken most disingenuously. This is the ‘conclusion’, it's the part of the camera time when you know you have to say something that will make you seem as if you have it all in hand, and one go-to way of doing that is by admitting responsibility, preferably with a forlorn look on your face and squinted eyes that shout “I'm a big man, I can admit my mistakes.”
Trouble is it isn't anything like admitting to your mistakes. More importantly, it doesn't come close to the intended effect; to make people believe that you're still in charge, you've still got tricks up your sleeve and that the only reason this hasn't worked out is because no one listens to you.
I wouldn’t want to be in front of those cameras as a Sunderland manager at the arse-end of a complete breakdown in fortunes – and not least because people like me, the very least of his concerns, will pick apart everything you say. Simon Grayson is only human. He didn't become a football manager to sharpen his skills as an orator, after all.
That being said the unavoidable truth of his position is that he will be there again and again and again until he finally says the wrong thing, or one of his employers realises the hidden truth within these semi-rehearsed statements and gives him the push.
The truth is that Grayson doesn't have control of his squad. So far he has failed to convey his tactics and strategies to the squad he helped build. Before he was the manager of the club, if everything he said here had been as a bystander, we would shrug and applaud Captain Obvious. But when the only way to dig yourself out of the hole is to bring success in all areas of the game, no one can look past the apparent flaws in your logic. After a loss everyone is looking for a scapegoat and, as a manager, blaming every single person in the team including yourself after a truly torrid run of form is as much the opening paragraph of a letter of resignation as anything else.
And rightly so, because let's be honest: if this form continues he won't be getting many more opportunities to blame the poor attention spans of his players.
Verdict: An unenviable position to be in.