Sunderland Echo

Sunderland shortcomin­gs remain sadly too familiar

- Phil Smith phil.smith@jpimedia.co.uk @Phil__Smith

Nineteen games in, the numbers leave us facing some familiar conclusion­s.

S u n d e rl a n d a re t ra c king at 1.57 points-per-game, a rate that if continued over the course of the season, would leave them exactly where they finished last year.

A points total not good enough for the play-offs last year, nor the season before it.

UnderMadro­x,Sunderland have not kicked on since that narrow and bitterly frustratin­g miss in the 2018-19 season. In fact, they have regressed, and considerab­ly so. The habit of drawing too many games (39 since dropping into the third tier) is actually accelerati­ng in the current campaign.

The recent run of form leaves us in no doubt that the summer window was another in which the Black Cats failed to make the necessary level of improvemen­t to their squad.

The salary cap made that window a challenge, as did the continuing need to adjust to the significan­tly reduced revenues Sunderland are now bringing in. Yet the chronic underfundi­ng and lack of care paid towards the recruitmen­t department in the last twoand-a-half years meant that the club yet again was unable to get what it needed out of the market.

A lack of pace and craft has lefttheBla­ckCatsagai­ntrailing the promotion pace.

That would be a worry in any season, but even more pressing given the current climate and how the previous campaign ended.

The recent changes at the club have of course represente­d an attempt to correct those shortcomin­gs off the pitch, with Kristjaan Speakman and Lee Johnson tasked with building a more dynamic team and a more modern footballin­g department.

The hope is that the swift ratificati­on of Kyril Louis-Dreyfus' takeover will provide the clear impetus and investment

the project requires to stand any chance of being successful.

The change in thinking is welcome; that the best way to secure promotion is to break the short-termist cycle that has left Sunderland where they are now. To stop thinking of promotion as the be-all and end-all actually might help the Black Catsmake the kind ofdecision­s thatimprov­etheclub'schances of finally getting the better of this division.

In the interim, there can be no doubt now that Johnson is facing an uphill task to deliver that promotion this season.

Right now, Sunderland's form suggests they are in a battle to land a play-off position, never mind automatic promotion.

The congested table of course provides some hope, and there are some important caveats to assess when reflecting on this latest 1-1 draw.

The Black Cats are still searching for momentum after the frustratin­gly stop-start nature of Johnson's tenure so far, and some key personnel are clearly missing as the head coach searches for a more progressiv­e look to his starting XI.

The second-half performanc­e was strong, if lacking in a little inspiratio­n.

Sunderland played most of the game in Hull City's half and against a side second in the table; that was another point worth dwelling on briefly.

Frustratin­g as the end result was, it is not this kind of draw that truly threatens Sunderland's promotion ambitions.

Their record against sides around the top six has always been respectabl­e; it is in putting away the sides near the bottom efficientl­y and consistent­ly that Sunderland's biggest problems lie.

It explains why Johnson is continuing to search for another spark in the final third, his post-match comments strongly suggesting that it is to this department his transfer search will now head following the arrival of Carl Winchester.

In the first half Charlie Wyke was isolated and had little influence on the contest, the Black Cats struggling for creativity in midfield.

Johnson's half-time changes did improve the picture slightly.

It is clear that Johnson will need time to make a significan­t impact and in the rise of Jack Diamond, there is hope that his talk of building a more dynamic side will come to fruition.

Rough edges remain in Diamond's game but the trust and licence he has been given by Johnson has undoubtedl­y improved the side.

The majority of Sunderland's bright moments came down his flank and the way he troubled the Hull defence shouldgive­himevenmor­econfidenc­e moving forward.

Johnson has kept his composure through a challengin­g start to life on Wearside, and his message for the short-term prospects of his side remains one of optimism.

He is pleased they looked solid defensivel­y, is satisfied with the workrate and still believes they can go on the kind of attacking run they now badly need.

He expects the rest of the season to be injury-hit as the hectic schedule bites and, like his predecesso­r, believes his side will cope with that better than most.

Make no mistake, though, he is facing a significan­t challenge.

He has said it is time now to show his teeth and demand more. Sunderland need it. Their shortcomin­gs right now are all too familiar.

 ??  ?? Reece Burke scores for Hull. Pictures by Frank Reid.
Reece Burke scores for Hull. Pictures by Frank Reid.

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