So, we arrive at the first international break of the season on the back of a good old-fashioned walloping at the hands of Peterborough. Three goals conceded, two players red-carded, Marcus Maddison running rings around us, and a general horror-show of a performance that brought our winning run to a shuddering halt.
Goodwill in football is a precious thing, and as far as Sunderland goes, it often appears to be extremely short supply. After five wins in a row Jack Ross had some credit in the bank, then suddenly he was the bad guy once again.
Without any doubt, Saturday’s debacle stung badly. With the Burton game having been postponed we now face a two-week wait until the chance for retribution when we make our merry way down to Accrington.
A reaction will be needed. Jack Ross will know this, and the players certainly will. Perhaps some needle in training is needed - a bit of creative tension, just to keep things simmering as the days pass by. The break will also give any incoming players a chance to get settled in, and all being well Jack Ross will be able to select from a fully-fit squad when we resume our league campaign.
And now to the burning question: how to judge our start to the season? Eleven points from eighteen in the league, and two cup victories to boot. Satisfactory? Not good enough?
Ask twenty fans and you might get twenty different answers.
In theory, our first six league fixtures appeared quite tricky and so to navigate through it with a solitary defeat to our name, following games against so-called promotion rivals in the likes of Portsmouth and Ipswich, maybe isn’t as bad as it might seem.
On the other hand, with the scars of last season still raw for many, even a single defeat constitutes a major setback, such is the razor-thin line between success and disaster on which Jack Ross and his players are walking.
Overall, the picture for Sunderland is mixed. As far as negatives go, we remain inconsistent with regard to our style of play: slow and passive for large chunks of games, and purposeful and confident for others. Whenever we get the ball on the deck and ping it around with confidence we look good, but if we get bogged down in an arm-wrestle of a match the pace seems to drain from our game with alarming speed.
Much has been made of our failure to dominate games and win with ease but victories are victories, and artistic merit will always play second fiddle to being on the right side of the scoreboard after ninety minutes.
Grind out a win, or destroy the opposition with something to spare? It all depends on how you like your football to be played, but in this league, a league out of which we ‘must get’ this season, no victory, regardless of style, is to be sniffed at.
Defensively, particularly on the flanks, we remain vulnerable. With the addition of Joel Lynch we should be solid enough at centre-back, but full-back remains our glaring weakness. Also, and at the risk of sounding blasphemous, the form of Jon McLaughlin remains a concern. He’s not exuding confidence and his positional play is not currently up to the standards we might expect. Lee Burge really ought to be kicking the manager’s door down and showing that he’s not here to simply be a faithful number two keeper. McLaughlin will undoubtedly get better, and hopefully this dip in form is swiftly rectified.
As far as attack goes, with Chris Maguire’s confidence soaring, Marc McNulty showing signs of promise and Lynden Gooch playing with his head up and a spring in his step we are in reasonably good shape. If Will Grigg can build on his Burnley goal and rediscover his form, who’s to say that the goals won’t begin to flow? On another positive note, Jordan Willis and George Dobson have settled in nicely, the odd shaky moment for Willis aside. I still believe that, long-term, our first-choice midfield will feature the strength and power of Dobson combining with the guile of Dylan McGeouch. That would be a nicely-balanced combination in the middle of the park.
When summing up Sunderland’s start to the season, ‘solid if unspectacular’ seems to be the appropriate phrase. Hopefully, when play resumes after the internationals, we can put together some complete performances, find some winning form again and clock up another batch of victories as we head into the autumn.