Sunderland have conceded first in four games this season. It's either heart warming to see our side battle back from a goal down to secure points, or disheartening to see Jack Ross's men regularly handicap themselves in the first 45 minutes.
Whichever way you look at it, it's becoming a bit of a problem. What could be the reasons why?
Slow starters start slow?
It's probably best to look at the easiest explanation first. Are these boys just slow starters? Do they take a while to get into the heat of the moment? Are they expecting to ease past their opponents due to the size and reputation of the club they're now at?
It doesn't seem that the team are any of those things. I genuinely think that Sunderland sit back and are a bit sloppy in the first 20 minutes. If they're having a hard time from kick off, it tends to be because we're not trying to impose our style of play on the game. Ross has built a side for passing and attacking. If we become ponderous and lethargic on the ball, it gives opposition players the time to close down and put pressure on which can lead to attacks being stifled, cages being rattled and the odd opposition strike flying into the back of the net.
Sunderland have probably struggled the most against 'traditional' English attacking football styles. I use the word 'traditional' very loosely as every manager and team likes to tinker with the standard template to try and craft a set up that suits them. By 'traditional' I mean teams that set up in a rock solid 4-4-2 formation, pack it with big strong boys who like to get a bit lairy and like a battle then sprinkle a bit of pace on the wings to stretch teams defensively.
Big men closing our players down and not giving them time to think seems to interrupt our attacking rhythm more than anything else. Sunderland go from playing an attractive, crisp passing game to lumping it up front and hoping it sticks. This isn't as much of a problem now that Charlie Wyke is back fit and firing, but I can't be the only person who watches this Sunderland side and wants to see the swashbuckling swagger and freedom that was evident in the Scunthorpe and Gillingham victories.
I'm well aware this isn't how everyone has set up against us. Oxford had the same formation as Sunderland last Saturday. But I think that was a case of how much the referee was involved in the game. Sunderland couldn't put a foot in without being penalised and the frustration of those in red and white was clear to see. It's hard to impose yourselves and your game plan if you can never build momentum or work up a head of steam without being shown a yellow or a free kick being given. And in all honesty, Oxford probably enjoyed keeping it dirty and stop start.
Teams may well be starting to see ways of negating the attacking game Ross is attempting to implement. A game based around astute, intelligent passing, patience and a ruthless edge for finishing. But with the personnel available to him, the quality they have and his own coaching nous should be enough for Ross's side to play most teams off the park at this level.
We must remember though that teams will raise their game and see us as a prized scalp in this league. Especially playing in front of 30,000 plus at the Stadium of Light. For some of the smaller teams that haven't played us before it'll be like a cup final. Oxford is proof of that. Absolutely woeful in the league until they rocked up on Wearside and produced their best performance of the season. Charlton similarly flew out the blocks against us on the opening day of the league campaign. I'm just sure that the lads will stay grounded enough to combat this. Or if anyone does have their heads in the clouds then Jack Ross will bring them rudely and crudely back down to earth.
Sunderland need to find a way to not get bogged down at the start of games. Not to come roaring out of the traps, hell for leather. But to just have that little bit more urgency, confidence and control. The belief that when we have the ball we can play and when we don't, that we'll have it back soon.
This relentless nature of doing what we want to do and knowing how we're going to do it strikes fear and frustration into the hearts of the opposition. Scunthorpe and Gillingham threw everything they had at us and couldn't find a way through. Our players stood firm and struck when the opportunity presented itself. These are the qualities that makes next week's opponents have second thoughts about how they're going to play.
We've already come through some tough tests in this league and the fan base are rising up in all their intimidating passion and love for the club. Let's hope this momentum keeps the League 1 party going.
More of that please.