After dogmatically sticking to a 4-4-2 last season, Steve Bruce’s post-World Cup embracing of the 4-5-1 has led to a resilient and above all, hard to beat Sunderland side. The team has worked hard against stronger opposition and gradually picked up some excellent league points. Despite a couple of early blips from the spiky Lee Cattermole, this Sunderland team seems disciplined, hardworking and resilient. Some truly bizarre goals have been scored against them during the opening few games of the season, but this has not deterred them from putting committed performances and getting themselves back into games. It seems a strange position, but following draws with Liverpool and Manchester United, many Sunderland supporters feel that four points were dropped during these games, as opposed to the more conventional view that two points were gained. It is a sign of how far the club has come since their return to the Premier League.
This strong start has been based on a well organized 4-5-1 formation, with hardworking midfielders such as Jordan Henderson constantly pressing and some excellent performances from the back four. Titus Bramble’s off-field problems are well documented, but on the field he has been outstanding. Anton Ferdinand, Phil Bardsley and Nedum Onouha all deserve plaudits for keeping Sunderland’s goals-against tally down and the new Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has been outstanding in the absence of Craig Gordon. Bruce in particular deserves praise for some excellent work in the transfer market during the summer.
However, the test that now awaits the Black Cats is very different. Supporters will expect wins from upcoming fixtures, and Sunderland will have to take the initiative and attack teams – although there have been spells in most of the North East club’s games this season, where they have attacked teams effectively, kept possession of the ball and looked very dangerous. In upcoming games against Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United and Stoke City, they will need to attack in numbers and effectively. The side are over reliant on the goal scoring ability of Darren Bent, but two of his five goals so far have come from penalties and the Black Cats need to create more chances during games. Either Asamoah Gyan or someone from midfield needs to start chipping in with goals as only Wigan, West Ham and Everton have scored less than Sunderland this season. The upcoming fixtures should give the Mackems an ideal opportunity to get some goals, and more importantly, points on the board.