In a season that has yet to inspire or excite in any real capacity, Aiden McGeady’s creativity has been a saving grace for Sunderland.
Their position is woeful but it would be far worse without the Irishman’s output. Four goals and three assists means he has been involved in over half of Sunderland’s overall tally, despite missing four games through injury.
Simon Grayson admits his goals, most of which have been scored from distance, have been ‘exceptional’, but added that he wants far more from a player whose career he re-ignited at Deepdale last season.
He said: “For him to score the goals and the quality of those goals has been exceptional for all to see, but I’d like a little bit more.
“I think there’s a lot more to come from him in his general play.
“I think his decision making is not at the level that either of us would expect at this moment in time, we had an example last week where he had a chance to cross it in the first few minutes, but decided to go and try and beat the player again.
“Aiden knows what his qualities are, has he reached those levels yet? No, probably not, like a lot of players.”
Sunderland’s problems, however, go far deeper than an over dependence on McGeady going forward, with a litany of defensive errors undermining any attempt to climb the league table.
Recent games have also seen questions raised over set-piece defending, though Grayson has played that potential problem down and again defended his goalkeeper from criticism.
He said: “Getting continuity in your team, partnerships and understandings, is vital to any successful side.
“We haven’t been able to do that.
“In terms of set-pieces, one of the staff came up with a stat the other day that before last week, out of something like 90 corners, we had only conceded one goal.
“I don’t think it’s a major concern, it’s just been highlighted in recent weeks because at Ipswich someone got a free header, and then someone got a free header last week, and we conceded from a free-kick at Preston.
“So we’ve conceded from three set-pieces in the last three games, but before that we had been very good,” he added.
“We have to get back to people taking responsibility – if you are marking someone, don’t let them get in front of you, don’t let them get a free header or anything like that.
“It goes back to doing whatever is required to stop the ball going into the back of our net.
“On Saturday, the goal came because someone wasn’t marking tight enough but also someone was marking on the outside rather than the inside, and if he’d got that right it would have allowed Jason Steele an opportunity to come and get to the ball.
“Minute details can be the difference at times, and we highlight this to the players but they have to take responsibility when they step over that white line.”
Grayson expects his side to be tested defensively by a Brentford team who look to dominate possession, but is confident his side can come out on top where it counts.
He said: “I’ve got to know Brentford very well over the last few years, with Mark Warburton there before Dean Smith, and they like to play out from the back and they will probably dominate possession against every team – there aren’t many games where the opposition sees more of the ball than them.
“I watched the game against Derby the other week and Brentford had 76 per cent possession – and that was against a team that are one of the favourites for promotion – but the score was 1-1, because it’s what happens in both boxes that really matters.”