The statistics are damning, for 65 minutes of Sunday's match, Sunderland sought to come back from 1-0 down against Newcastle, and yet they didn't manage a single shot on target in that period. Sebastian Larsson forced a Krul save from a free kick before Tiote's red card, but it was only an own goal from Ba that led to the match being tied. Given that Sunderland had the in form Steven Fletcher, along with several talented attacking midfielders on the pitch, backed up with full backs that have previously played in midfield themselves, why were they so unimpressive going forward?
One possible cause is that Martin O'Neill has set them up as an almost exclusively counter attacking team. Their attacking midfielders are all very exciting in broken play, dribbling at isolated defenders and moving up the pitch rapidly, but they are clearly less comfortable when facing a deep set defence. When Newcastle brought on James Perch to shore up the midfield, their two banks of four made players like Johnson and McClean look clueless. Constantly facing two defenders the wingers failed to make an impact on the match, and their full backs didn't seem overly keen on helping them out in the final third.
Adam Johnson in particular looked poor. Given his history at Middlesbrough he should understand well the emotions of a North East derby, but he failed to get behind the Newcastle defence and provided little service to Steven Fletcher. Johnson likes to cut in off his flank onto his preferred left foot, but Newcastle's left back, Davide Santon, was well set for that as it brought him onto his stronger foot as well. The questions remain over Johnson whether his exciting displays at Manchester City were perhaps made possible as space was created by players like David Silva and Yaya Toure.
Steven Fletcher is not a striker who will create his own chances, his role is to provide the finish to other's creativity, something he has done well at Sunderland. With the midfield failing to fire he rarely looked like part of the match, well marshalled as he was by Coloccini and Williamson.
As a unit Sunderland look short of ideas in the attacking third. With only six goals in the league so far the indications are that O'Neill has stacked too many chips in one area, with a plethora of exciting counter attacking players masking their lack of a more subtle playmaker. If Sunderland go behind early in matches and aren't allowed to play on the break their lack of ideas could be highlighted again and again this season, O'Neill needs to sort out a plan B.
image: © vagueonthehow