On Sunday, Sunderland opened their Championship account with a hard-fought draw against Coventry City, with Jack Clarke opening the scoring in the first half before Viktor Gyökeres levelled matters in the 84th minute.
The Black Cats played some good counterattacking footballing, and were superb on the press, but left the field with multiple players in Darren Bond’s little black book. This begs the question of whether Alex Neil’s team have an ongoing problem with their discipline.
During the 2021/2022 season, the Black Cats picked up ninety yellow cards and three reds, putting them sixth and eleventh respectively in the disciplinary table. In addition, this was the highest number of yellow cards we picked up during a single League One season.
As we know, that division is very physical, and is one that we often struggled to adapt to. This left us crying out for combative midfielders, which we now have, but if these disciplinary issues follow us into the Championship, we could find ourselves in trouble. After all, what might have resulted in a yellow card in League One could easily equate to a straight red in this division.
During the opening game, Sunderland racked up sixteen fouls compared to Coventry’s six, and when you compare these to the possession stats (38% to 62%), they tell a story of frustration, a loss of focus and the use of roughhouse tactics, which are a layover from our time in the lower leagues.
Jack Clarke picked up the first yellow card from referee Bond in the 51st minute, and was very fortunate to not receive a second when he clattered into the back of an opposition player. Corry Evans was carded the 55th minute but played the remainder of the game in a composed manner, and Dan Ballard finally picked up a caution in the 76th minute after multiple warnings from the referee. Finally, Luke O’Nien received a yellow card in the 94th minute for a bad foul that, on another day, could have resulted in a red.
As we all know, Alex Neil will set up his team to counteract whatever tactics our opponents deploy, and it may just be on this occasion, the decision was made to soak up attacks and hit them on the counter. By using these tactics, we naturally put ourselves on the back foot and given that the football in the Championship is less ‘route one’ and more possession-based, it puts the Lads in a position where they must make multiple tackles and interceptions, which will then increase the amount of fouls committed.
The Championship is an entirely different kettle of fish to the league below, and if we don’t manage to shed ourselves of the bare-knuckle mentality of League One, we may find ourselves short of key players at important times this season.