In comparison to recent results, the goalless draw with Doncaster Rovers at the Stadium of Light was disappointing, perhaps more concerning was a lack of plan B from manager Phil Parkinson.
With the game eking away in the latter stages, having already introduced fresh faces in the shape of Duncan Watmore and new signing, Kyle Lafferty, Parkinson elected to leave Sunderland’s third substitute on the bench as the game ended in stalemate.
It’s not the first time Parkinson has opted against shuffling his pack towards the end of a game. Boxing Day’s stalemate with Bolton Wanderers saw the manager introduce Laurens De Bock at centre half rather than bring on striker Will Grigg as another option to force the issue.
That decision drew criticism from supporters as Parkinson stuck with his tried and tested formula. On Friday night Sunderland were in a similar predicament having been stifled by a resilient Doncaster outfit who had done their homework since the sides previous meeting just weeks earlier.
Charlie Wyke was comfortably ushered out of the game; Lafferty was brought on as a like-for-like substitution but he too struggled to receive much service and failed to make much of an impact.
With on-loan striker Marc McNulty on the bench, could Parkinson not have changed his system that had been blunted for 80 minutes? Could McNulty not have replaced one of the three centre backs for a change of formation to give Doncaster something else to think about for the remaining minutes of the game? It may not have worked but it could have created another opening.
Going forward this is something which Parkinson will have to consider as more of the league’s sides continue to figure out the 3-4-3 wing back system in which he has been operating. MK Dons came close to taking a hard fought point last weekend, but for a moment of brilliance from Lynden Gooch, but how long can Sunderland rely on their expertise in front of goal?
The games continue to come thick and fast over the next month of the season, and Parkinson will have to look at alternatives both tactically and in personnel as the League One campaign ramps up towards its much-anticipated final stretch.
Due to Sunderland’s lacklustre start under Parkinson it means results like last night’s draw with Doncaster may end up coming back to haunt the club come May; they are the results which cost Jack Ross automatic promotion last season and ultimately his job.
The January transfer window closes this week and it seems almost inevitable that Sunderland will have to bring in another body or two and perhaps Parkinson will need somebody adaptable in order to execute a plan B in the closing stages of games.
During the promotion campaign of 2007, under Roy Keane, there were a plethora of late goals whether it be through fitness, sheer perseverance or a change in approach to outfox opponents.
If Sunderland are going to hit one of those top two spots to punch their ticket back into the Championship automatically then they will need become more innovative against the league’s sterner opposition.