Sunderland’s unbeaten start to the season continued and, more importantly, they secured their first win of the campaign against rivals Portsmouth this weekend.
The two sides met five times in all competitions last season and in the first encounter of this campaign, it was the Black Cats who got on the right side of the result.
After two draws from their opening two league games, the early pressure was on Jack Ross’ side to produce on their home turf. Instead, with 22 minutes on the clock, they went behind to a Marcus Harness strike.
Before the crowd could begin to express concern, Jordan Willis drew them level. As the 40-minute mark approached, Chris Maguire gave the home side a lead which they held on to in a relatively uninspiring second period.
Neither side showed much attacking intent, Sunderland having just the two efforts on target, Portsmouth also scoring from their only shot on goal.
That won’t bother Black Cats’ fans though, they’ll see five points from a possible nine on the board and no defeats to be concerned about. With Wimbledon and Rochdale up next, they could be about to take their expected place in the top six.
Here are three things we learnt from their match this weekend.
Back to 4-2-3-1
It was tried and tested last season, the preferred tactic of Jack Ross, and it returned for this encounter.
He’s played 3-5-2 in the opening league fixtures, swapping to 4-4-2 for their cup win against Accrington, but there was a familiar look about the Black Cats this time around.
It looks as though Ross has already abandoned his new approach.
Will Grigg and Charlie Wyke were the big names to join last season, but neither played this weekend as 30-year-old Chris Maguire, a free transfer, played behind loan star Marc McNulty.
The future doesn’t look great for the two strikers after an indifferent campaign last time out. If Ross is willing to leave both out and see the club win, what are their chances of playing either of the games this week?
Slim. Very slim.
Grant Leadbitter’s importance
Whilst the game was one boasting few clear-cut chances, there was plenty to be hopeful about for Sunderland.
Grant Leadbitter might be in the final stages of his career, but he proved to be an adequate replacement for Lee Cattermole. He rolled back the years with a fine display which might be the key to making the 4-2-3-1 formation work from a defensive point of view.