Sunderland were roared on by 3,000 travelling fans yesterday at Deepdale to gain a hard-fought draw against top-six Preston. The result has lifted some of the gloom but the mood amongst supporters remains cautious. Here's two reasons to believe the glass is half full with a creeping killjoy trio of others.
👍 Well, Duncan Watmore looked lively
After nearly ten months out with a serious knee injury, the return of former England U21 attacker Duncan Watmore was a welcome sight on 64 minutes; and the flame-haired 23-year-old appears to have retained a turn of pace which should test Championship defenders in the coming months.
Simon Grayson said he would have started Watmore if the club medical team had Ok'd it, such is the desperation of the Black Cats' boss to add some verve to his forward options.
As yet untested in the second-tier of English football, the former Altrincham player has turned out in the Conference, Premier League and the Scottish Premiership so far in his career. Watmore offered enough against Preston to warrant a cautious optimism that he can add an extra dimension to Sunderland's attack.
👍 At least the players tried this weekend
After Tuesday's abject display at Ipswich following last Saturday's laboured effort at home against Cardiff, accusations over the application and attitude of the Sunderland squad have been thrown at the players and Simon Grayson.
The Black Cats boss suggested he and his men would "stick two fingers up" at their accusers with a demonstration of how much they care at Preston - and they managed it, by and large.
Sunderland got back to basics and competed with Alex Neil's side for the ninety-odd minutes. But was it a coincidence that usual shirker Lamine Kone was absent for this one?
👎 Sunderland just cannot stop conceding
Only bottom side Bolton and 21st-placed Burton have conceded more than Sunderland who shipped another two yesterday.
The Black Cats have now conceded 18 goals in their last eight league outings and whilst the introduction of John O'Shea into the back line at least gave the defence a better balance and increased organisation, Sunderland's feat of being the only Championship side not to keep a clean sheet is of growing concern.
Simon Grayson's rotating goalkeepers continue to have a doubt cast over at least one goal conceded each week and it's the sheer variety of opposition strikes which are being conceded which suggests the Sunderland rear-guard remains not fit for purpose.
Preston's goals came from a free kick misjudged by the away defence and a stonker from Jordan Hugill to add to the breadth of those conceded by the Black Cats as the weeks progress.
👎 Central midfield looked better but were up against a weakened one
Cattermole and Ndong have been rightly criticised for their inability to stamp an authority on games in Sunderland's current winless run from nine games, but the pair were much better for the trip to Deepdale yesterday.
Catts was a marked improvement on the version which stunk against Ipswich and Cardiff whilst Ndong was lively as usual and played through the ball which led to Aiden McGeady's equaliser.
An all-round better showing in the middle then but Preston were weakened in there with their own absences of regular central midfielders John Welsh, Ben Pearson and Paul Gallagher.
Alex Neil suggested after the game that he had deployed Daniel Johnson deeper than usual and that easing of impetus clearly reduced the pressure on Sunderland's holding pair. Stronger Championship midfields then will continue to test the Black Cats.
👎 The relegation form continues & most of the squad are poor
Going into another international break with one win in eleven and Sunderland remain second bottom of the Championship. With a quarter of the season now complete, the league table isn't lying.
Roughly 50 points - better than a point a game - is the usual requirement to just about avoid relegation and Simon Grayson's side are performing at way under that level currently.
Sunderland will need 40-odd points from the rest of the 35 games left just to stay up - depressing. Still a long way to go but if yesterday marked an improvement - it really will need to be sustained and built upon.
The Black Cats ranks are patently made up of largely poor players and on current form, only Aiden McGeady really looks to be a class act in this division.