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Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship

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Sunderland’s foundations are strong and Michael Beale needs to build on them

“After the initial reaction to his appointment, things are calming down and Saturday’s game against Coventry is a superb chance to start a new era on a positive note”, writes Phil West.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

After the initially polarised reaction to a new appointment at the Stadium of Light, it’s time to get back down to business after a lively couple of days on Wearside.

Soon, the arguments for and against the hiring of Michael Beale will be replaced by more pressing matters, namely Saturday’s visit of Coventry and the first in a run of games over Christmas and New Year that’ll be as much a test of Sunderland’s top six credentials as they will a challenge for Beale to demonstrate that he can keep the club moving forward.

Yesterday, the pre-match media duties began in earnest and the joint press conference with Beale and sporting director Kristjaan Speakman was a fairly tepid, uneventful affair.

To nobody’s surprise, no real bombshells were dropped, little of note was given away and the former QPR and Rangers boss was at pains to highlight that he’s ‘fully comfortable’ with our way of operating, as well as acknowledging that he’ll have to ‘win over the fans’ as he settles into the role.

Boxes ticked in terms of presentation, saying the right things and not missing a step on your first assignment in front of the media but for Beale, the real test now begins and the picture is mixed - if broadly positive - as he begins the task of attempting to build on the solid platform left by Tony Mowbray.

Last Saturday’s defeat against Bristol City was the kind of irritatingly sloppy loss we’ve come to expect at times this season: statistical dominance, a lack of cutting edge in the penalty area, and a goal conceded cheaply after an individual error.

It might not have been enough to undo the excellent work of two wins over Leeds and West Bromwich Albion, but it did highlight the fact that we remain highly inconsistent and prone to coming unstuck in games that we’re expected to win.

When we’re good, we’re really good (as Southampton found out to their cost) but when games become physical or we’re not quite clicking in attack, we’re prone to tripping up against theoretically inferior opponents.

Sunderland vs Middlesbrough Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Sunderland’s goalscoring issues aren’t new, and surely Beale will throw his weight behind either Nazariy Rusyn or Eliezer Mayenda as our starting centre forward during this packed run of games.

If what we’re told is true and wingers aren’t necessarily to Beale’s taste, the possibility of redefined roles for Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts will be an interesting subplot, and that’s before you throw mercurial talents such as Adil Aouchiche, Alex Pritchard and Jobe Bellingham into the mix as well.

Will he have a plan to overhaul the quality of service that our centre forwards receive? Can he implement a style that won’t see us chasing the perfect goal but instead being more direct and purposeful in attack? How it all plays out will be fascinating.

Midfield is also an area of moderate concern and once again, January surely represents a great chance to add a little more muscle in that area amid the ongoing absence of Corry Evans.

Dan Neil continues to grow into his role as the senior voice in the red and white engine room and has seldom put a foot wrong, but what of Pierre Ekwah?

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Seemingly low on confidence and not asserting himself in games as we all know he can, perhaps a new voice from the sidelines can be the spur he needs to recapture the form that made him such a valuable presence earlier in the season.

On a more positive note, Beale takes over a squad that can boast impressive defensive depth and quality when everyone is fit.

Timothée Pembélé’s long-awaited debut on Monday evening hinted that another exciting talent is emerging, and with the likes of Aji Alese and Dennis Cirkin on the comeback trail and Jenson Seelt gradually making his mark in red and white, Beale won’t be short of quality options as he ponders how best to shore up the backline.

Sunderland v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images

Sunderland’s squad is young, cosmopolitan and filled with talent, and how Beale harnesses that will go a long way to determining whether he’ll be successful or not.

One of Mowbray’s real strengths was his willingness to back his young charges through ups and downs in form, as well as his stated desire to help them ‘develop as human beings, not just as footballers’.

Whether Beale, a different profile of head coach altogether, will do that remains to be seen, but he arrives with the club well-placed to challenge during the second half of the season and with a squad of players who’ve demonstrated their quality on numerous occasions.

Build relationships, show patience and back them as Mowbray did, and there’s no doubt they’ll deliver for the new man in the dugout.

The time for slick, crowd-pleasing sentiments is over and we need to see some concrete evidence of the coaching credentials that we’re told were the driving force behind Beale’s appointment.

Coventry will be no gimme, but let’s hope there’s some kind of ‘new head coach bounce’ when the Sky Blues arrive this weekend.

Kick off with a good performance and a win, and the goodwill will be plentiful.


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