Sunderland v Cardiff: second half lapses

Simon Grayson –

A big factor behind Sunderland’s poor start to the season has been their record in the latter stages of games.

They have scored three and conceded seven in the second halves of matches – only two teams have scored fewer and just three have conceded more. No side has conceded more than their five in the last 15 minutes, too. If they are winning or drawing after the break, they often drop deep to protect what they have. That may be partly the psychological impact of their last campaign and partly the tactics of Simon Grayson.

The Black Cats cannot afford to cave in late on though against Cardiff, who have scored eight second half goals, the joint-second most in the division. They did not put in the best performances against Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday, but battled hard in those games for timely equalizers.

Substitute Liam Feeney made a big impact in both fixtures. Given Junior Hoilett’s plateauing form this month, Warnock may be tempted to reward the ex-Bolton man with a first start if he is comfortable playing on the left. Lee Tomlin also contributed after coming on against Sheffield Wednesday and could offer something different against Sunderland, if he begins the match.

Craig Bryson, Aron Gunnarsson and Joe Ralls, who started last time out, are all industrious midfielders. Against Sunderland, who play with two holding men in Lee Cattermole and Didier Ndong, there may be room for someone more enigmatic like Tomlin who can open games up in tight spaces.

The man who can do that for Sunderland is Jonny Williams. He showed energy and creativity at Hull last week – and to an extent at Everton on Wednesday – qualities otherwise lacking in central midfield. Callum McManamann provides pace out wide and recently, we have seen better service to James Vaughan as a result.

The striker will have a tough afternoon though against centre-backs such as Sol Bamba, who has made key contributions for Cardiff in both boxes, earning himself a new contract. Bamba scored a 95th minute leveller against Wednesday, who were punished for inviting pressure late on. Sunderland must make sure they don’t make the same mistake.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 1-2