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Sunderland AFC v preston (away)...
match report

Sunderland drew 2-2 away at Preston in a game where an early Honeyman goal was cancelled out by a demoralising quickfire double from the home side. McGeady netted our second to win a point in a much-improved performance from Sunderland that also saw the return of Roadrunner Duncan Watmore. While Simon Grayson's status as manager was under threat going into this fixture, his job is surely now safe going into the International break.

Sunderland’s collapse at Ipswich mid-week threatened to bring Simon Grayson’s disastrous opening spell at Sunderland to an end, and many hypothesised that a defeat today could seal it completely. With an International break over the horizon, this would be the perfect time for a change in the backroom — Grayson would likely have to resign to severe his employment status, as presumably Sunderland could not afford to sack him!

That is not to say that Grayson categorically should be sacked. His tactics in recent times have been questionable — persisting with Cattermole, a midfield two, five at the back and playing Vaughan so far up the pitch — at the same time, however, I think our failings in the transfer window have certainly played a big part in it. With Grayson having a good reputation as a man manager, I think there’s every chance that, once he figures it out, he could still be great for us.

The team was announced and resembled something closer to what I have been hoping for in recent times.

Jones, O’Shea, Browning, Matthews
Honeyman, Cattermole, NDong, Gooch
McGeady, Vaughan

I expect that McGeady will play something of a free role, but then both Gooch and Honeyman are also capable of playing behind the striker. Personally I would have Gooch playing in front of Vaughan and tell Vaughan to do nothing but stand in the box while Gooch chases the long balls. He is a goalscorer, indisputably, but without being utilised as a goalscorer he will barely get the chance to convert, which has been our problem with him thus far.

Sunderland did indeed line up 4-4-2, and O’Shea’s reintroduction is well overdue — Kone has been off his game for a while now, and at least needs to be dropped to make a statement, if not to improve our performance.

Sunderland spent the first 20 minutes or so getting a feel for the game, with Cattermole looking much more comfortable in a 4-man midfield. Having Honeyman and Gooch on the pitch gave us that extra bit of of pace and drive that seemed to worry Preston. The deadlock was broken, however, by a set piece.

A looping free kick into the box was won by Vaughan, who leapt high in the air to nod the ball down for Gooch. The young American spotted Honeyman, who was unmarked, and cheekily back heeled the ball to set up an easy finish. A fantastically worked set piece that was highly appreciated by the 3,000 travelling Sunderland fans, who burst into a rapturous hysteria.

While I’ve been critical of Vaughan’s role as an aerial pivot, it certainly worked well for the goal. A one-goal cushion allowed Sunderland to be much more relaxed on the ball, with McGeady on the right wing, Honeyman on the left, and Gooch playing up front with Vaughan.

Simon Grayson opened himself to huge criticism during the week for having a pop at a section of Sunderland fans, but his tactics today from the start were nigh-on perfect, for me. His comment that critical, fair-weather SAFC fans are ‘crawling out of the woodwork’ was no doubt miscalculated, but at the same time I am also hugely resentful of fans that have stopped going to games after relegation. We don’t support the team because it wins; you have to go whether we win or lose, there’s no choice in the matter.

Half-time arrived and Sunderland finished the half positively after commanding the late stages. The only real clear-cut chance of the first half for either side was the goal, but Sunderland looked the more comfortable of the two sides. Preston naturally saw more of the ball, but did nothing with it — a stark contrast to Ipswich’s incredible exploitation of the wide areas on Tuesday.

Preston restarted the game at a much more advanced position up the pitch, and for the first ten minutes Sunderland saw very little of the ball. After dispossessing Sunderland, a long ball was played up the pitch with Preston going 2 v 2 up against the SAFC defence. A pass was slid across to the free man but lacked accuracy and Preston’s best chance of the game thankfully went to waste.

After that, the game got a bit silly. Preston won a free kick around 10 yards outside the box. A fairly tame cross was delivered, but James Vaughan panicked and nodded the ball past Jason Steele to concede a pathetic own goal. With better communication, Steele could have gathered easily, though that is not necessary Vaughan’s fault.

Preston scored again just a minute later. The home side had grown massively in confidence since their goal and were moving the ball across the edge of the box. After laying the ball off, Preston’s Jordan Hugill smashed it past Steele into the net to complete a two-goal turnaround. Normal service resumed, but only briefly.

McGeady was beginning to look frustrated, given our leaky defence and the gravity of the occasion for him personally, but this seemed to give him an extra edge. A ball was slotted through that looked at least 60-40 in favour of the defender, but McGeady slid to win it showing no fear, setting himself up for a free shot at goal from the edge of the box, which curled into the far corner to level the match. Excellent stuff from arguably our star man when on form.

Duncan Watmore was introduced which immediately changed our game plan. His pace is sensational and he doesn’t seem to have lost any of it since the injury. Preston’s goalkeeper should have been sent off when a long ball was chased down by Duncan. The ‘keeper raced out and handled the ball to prevent Watmore from rounding him, wiping the player out in the process. Incredibly, the ref gave us a throw in and booked O’Shea for pointing out what had happened. A literal disgrace.

Vaughan had faded out of the game and Preston were scrambling to get a foot hold in it after the introduction of Watmore.  When Preston sat back, however, Watmore’s role became redundant. He is no magician with the ball at his feet, and without space to run into he is no more threatening than anyone else.

The last twenty minutes or so were nervy for either side, with Ben Davies making a crucial interception to deny Cattermole a free shot at an open goal after McGeady bypassed the keeper.  A long throw into the box was flicked on by O’Shea towards Vaughan, who took a mighty swing with his left foot and sent a shot towards goal. Preston were well positioned, however, and blocked the ball before it nestled in the goal.

The game finished 2-2 and you’d have to look at it as 2 points dropped after the way we started the game. At the same time, our heads didn’t drop after the agonising 2-goal swing from Preston, which is in stark contrast to what we saw on Tuesday. Much better from Sunderland, and far less misery going into the International break. Simon Grayson surely won’t lose his job after that.

Final score: Preston 2-2 Sunderland
ALS MOTM: NDong or Cattermole
Chris Thompson

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