Sunderland’s Stadium of Light Struggles – Under the microscope

Written by on 28th September 2023

Sunday’s 1-0 defeat at home to Cardiff means the Black Cats have now only won 9 of their last 27 home games, despite averaging over 40,000 fans, the highest attendance in the Championship 

Following the game, manager Tony Mowbray said that the performance was ‘more than enough to win a football match’, but admitted that his side struggled to break down Cardiff’s low block.

Bluebirds manager Erol Bulut was highly complementary of Sunderland when speaking to his side’s media team, ‘with the ball they are one of the best teams in the Championship’.

However, he said his side had trained a lot without the ball in the build-up to the game, and it paid dividends as they frustrated Sunderland and snatched a winner in the 87th minute.

The defeat raised more questions for this young, talented Sunderland side. Questions concerning the atmosphere at the Stadium of Light and if there is more of an expectation to perform at home, as were questions concerning teams that sit eleven men behind the ball and make the crowd restless.

The Black Cats home form also raises the question of their away form. In their last ten away games, they have won six, drew two and lost two, which is in stark contrast to their home form.

Phil West, a staff writer for Roker Report, offered some insight into the atmosphere inside the Stadium of Light, and why Sunderland may be struggling at home.

He said, “Against Southampton, where we made a positive start and were on the front foot immediately, the atmosphere was superb and highly-charged”.

Sunderland went on to complete a demolition of Russell Martin’s side, winning by five goals to nil.

Phil is a season ticket holder in the North West corner of the stadium and said that the atmosphere can vary from game to game, citing last Sunday’s game as an example.

He added, “In contrast, things were perhaps a little more edgy against Cardiff as we couldn’t quite find the breakthrough – despite playing some good football”.

“If we don’t find the opening goal within twenty minutes or so of games, I feel that the crowd can sometimes get nervous and slightly restless, and this can often filter down onto the pitch”.

Stadium of Light, Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, England

The stats also paint a bad picture when it comes to Sunderland’s home form – as against Southampton, Sunderland only had 31% possession compared to 66% against Cardiff, which adds substance to West’s point.

They also made significantly more passes against Cardiff, 665 to 253, which could explain the restlessness of some fans. They had less of the ball but did much more with it against Southampton.

This relates to the expectation to perform at home and the added pressure it brings. Tony Mowbray guided Sunderland to a sixth-place finish last season, which arguably exceeded the expectations of some fans.

However, West said that the sixth-place finish last season showed the fans “exactly what the team is capable of when we put a complete performance together”.

But he did add that “patience will sometimes be key for us this season”, when teams such as Cardiff City go to the Stadium of Light with a low-block.

West said that the attitude of teams like Cardiff should be seen as a positive by the home faithful.

“Psychologically, I think most, if not all, visiting teams would be delighted to leave having taken a point from Sunderland, and in some ways, it shows how seriously we’re being taken by our opponents”.

This is a compliment of the highest order, given the fact that Sunderland has, on average, the youngest side in the Championship, with an average age of 22.4 years.

Away from home though, the Wearside’s form is far better, with Mowbray’s side seemingly preferring trips away from the Stadium of Light.

They have won two out of four this season, both by the same 3-1 score line and travel to bottom of the league Sheffield Wednesday on Friday evening.

Concerning their away form, West said: “Our style of play has been very effective, and in front of sold-out away ends, the players often rise to the challenge and play with greater freedom – as they did against West Brom, where we scored a sublime second goal to secure a crucial victory.”

If Mowbray’s young side do want to challenge for promotion again this season, they will have to turn the Stadium of Light into a fortress.

This is a sentiment echoed by West, who said “My personal view is that we’ve truly yet to master the art of game management at the Stadium of Light. Nine wins from a possible twenty-seven is an undeniably poor return”.

He added, “As the players gain more experience at this level, coupled with key figures returning from injury, I think we can gradually start to turn the tide in front of our own fans”.

“The backing of 40,000+ should be something that inspires the players instead of holding them back, and I’m hopeful that when we kick off against Watford, we’ll be doing so on the back of a win and therefore able to play with greater confidence”.

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