Goalkeeper needed, more creativity necessary and who to play at the back? The Sunderland talking points

Simon Grayson on the touchline against Hartlepool United.
Simon Grayson on the touchline against Hartlepool United.

Sunderland edged to victory over Hartlepool United thanks to a fine late free-kick from Jeremain Lens.

Ryan Donaldson levelled the game midway through the second half, after a Josh Maja penalty put the Black Cats ahead just before half-time.

Donaldson’s goal was another poor one to concede as far as Sunderland were concerned, though Simon Grayson did reveal after the game that the Pools winger had confessed to being offside.

Grayson’s side looked fairly laboured for the most part and clearly have much work to do before the season begins.

Here are some of the talking points ...

GOALKEEPER DILEMMA

There was a surprise waiting for Sunderland fans at Victoria Park as news of Vito Mannone’s imminent move to Reading broke.

The Italian was not at the ground or on the teamsheet, with Max Stryjek and Mika on duty.

That underlined the need for one, perhaps two, new stoppers and it must be a priority for Simon Grayson now.

Initial reaction suggests most see £2million for a player entering the last year of his deal and struggling for form as good business, which it perhaps is.

It leaves another sizeable gap in the squad however and a strong replacement must be found quickly.

Stryjek, for what it is worth, looked comfortable enough but it is not a position where Sunderland can gamble.

LACK OF A BALL PLAYER IS GLARING

When Wahbi Khazri and Jeremain Lens do not play, as they didn’t for the first 70 minutes here, the lack of creativity in the final third is obvious.

Aiden McGeady clearly has a major role to play in this regard when fit, but Sunderland look very much like they could benefit from a playmaker in central midfield.

In truth, they did little to trouble Hartlepool for most of this game and that has to be a concern with the season just over a fortnight away.

Sunderland have plenty of central midfielders but not a great deal of variety, with the lack of tempo and verve on the ball still a concern.

ASORO AND MAJA GIVING THEMSELVES A CHANCE

That said, Grayson will again have been pleased with the contribution of his two young starlets.

From an unfamiliar right wing position, Asoro forced his way into the game and almost teed Honeyman up for the opener.

His intuition to steal inside Louis Laing and win the penalty was excellent and he was a constant threat.

Maja took his penalty with supreme confidence and once again showed his impressive maturity on and off the ball.

His willingness to drop into space from deep offers Sunderland a different dimension and he threatened when moved further forward in the second half.

KONE LOOKS OUT OF SORTS

Lamine Kone’s strength and power is never in question but whether he is making the most of it at the moment is a different question.

Certainly, he does not look anything like a player worth the kind of £20million fee being suggested last summer.

Here his clearances were erratic and he is not dominating opponents of lesser stature as you would expect.

He has the potential to be a major force for Sunderland but if it was not already clear, all signs are that it would be best for both parties for the Black Cats to cash in and move on.

Under the likes of Sean Dyche or Tony Pulis, Kone could refocus impress again but his stock has faded.

NO CLOSER TO KNOWING GRAYSON’S BEST SIDE

One of the big concerns as the season approaches is that we, and Simon Grayson, are no close to knowing what his best side is.

When Wahbi Khazri and Jeremain Lens don’t play the side look poorer but it is clear that either could leave at any point.

In central midfield, Didier Ndong and Lee Cattermole are probably his best bets but up front, in the wide areas and at full-back, he is still forced to experiment.

At centre-half, too, no combination has emerged as particularly convincing.

Uncertainty still reigns and while the outlines of a Grayson team have emerged, there remains a worrying amount of fine tuning to be done.