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Talking Points: Sunderland’s defending and chance creation must improve if we want promotion

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Yesterday’s defeat at Coventry highlighted the two key weaknesses of this Sunderland team - they’re nowhere near good enough at creating chances, and their defensive standards have slipped. Improvement is needed.

Coventry City v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images

Standards are slipping defensively

Sunderland have faced to tough sides this week and have taken one point from a possible six, that draw coming due to a last minute goal against Fleetwood by Max Power.

In both games we’ve conceded early and have been made to pay for our slow, lethargic start. This isn’t a trait becoming of Phil Parkinson’s team since the turn of the year, and maybe it’s a sign that we aren’t as good defensively as we perhaps thought we were.

Obviously, Bailey Wright was signed with the intention of improving our back line, and now that he’s injured we’ve had to revert to a plan B. Tommy Smith was signed to offer further competition, and with the experience he possesses you’d hope he can improve us, but he wasn’t even part of the match squad yesterday and, like all the other signings made this year, I worry about whether Phil Parkinson has any faith in him.

We have to go back to the drawing board and ask ourselves: how can we not only ensure that we get past this blip, but also improve further and ensure we get promotion?

Having a solid defence is the foundation for success, and in each of the last two games we’ve started slowly, switched off and been made to pay. This cannot happen again.

Coventry City v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images

Not creating chances is costing us

Denver Hume has two assists from his last 22 games. Luke O’Nien hasn’t provided an assist in the league since we beat Wimbledon on the 24th August. George Dobson hasn’t registered a single assist this season. Max Power has created just one goal this season. Lynden Gooch has just one assist this season, and that came in January against Wycombe. Charlie Wyke has just one assist this season, when we beat Milton Keynes Dons in September. The sole creator in the squad is Chris Maguire, who we rely far too heavily on to come up with the goods on a game-by-game basis. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that without him we’d be absolutely knackered in the goalscoring department.

We’re dominating games, in the sense of ball-possession, anyways, but we’re not scoring enough goals. That’s fine if we’re playing poor sides, because eventually we’ll find a way through, but as soon as we face someone organised we struggle.

This, to me, suggests that Parky’s plan is not working. The personnel in the system have to change otherwise we’re potentially facing a play-off finish, and nobody wants that.

Coventry City v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images

Coventry weren’t that good...

What annoys me is that we’ve failed to pick up wins in our last two games, yet both of our opponents have looked poor. It’s perhaps an indictment of just how poor League One is, but I’ve failed to be impressed by any of the other promotion contenders we’ve faced this season.

Perhaps Coventry taking the early lead changed their game-plan, and they sat back a little more than they perhaps might usually against lesser teams, but there was nothing about them yesterday that impressed me beyond their right back, Dabo, and the goalscorer, Matt Godden. Individually they’re both clearly good players, and they helped to win the game for their team, but Coventry’s overall play didn’t feel particularly special.

I’m gutted we weren’t able to get the job done.

Right now it feels like we’re just falling short of being good enough for a top two finish, but I believe in the manager and I believe in the squad he has to improve our fortunes.