IT is just over a month since Lee Johnson was appointed as head coach of Sunderland, and while the effects of last month’s coronavirus outbreak might mean he has only taken charge of five games, he has seen more than enough to know that changes are needed.

Taken in isolation, Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Hull City was hardly a disaster. The Black Cats matched one of their promotion rivals in an open encounter that could have swung either way. Taken as part of a wider narrative, however, it provided yet more compelling evidence of why Johnson’s new employers find themselves mired in mid-table as they look to haul themselves out of the third tier at the third time of asking.

Sunderland have now drawn six of their last eight league matches, and have recorded a remarkable 29 1-1 scorelines in their two-and-a-half seasons of League One football, one of which was curtailed when Covid struck in March.

They are the draw specialists, honest and well-organised enough to avoid defeat, but lacking the creativity, attacking flair and killer instinct to turn reasonable performances into results. It is a failing that ultimately did for both Jack Ross and Phil Parkinson, and which Johnson has already concluded could prove fatal to his own hopes of achieving promotion unless it is addressed.

“We have a couple who need to do more, if I’m honest,” said the Sunderland boss, in the aftermath of his side’s latest failure to claim victory on home soil. “We need to show devilment for 96 minutes.

“There’s still a bit to do, and I think I’ve got to show my teeth a bit now and demand that execution in the final third.”

In terms of baring his teeth, Johnson will take a twin-track approach. He will demand improvements from the attacking players currently working under him, but will also be scouring the transfer market for players who can make an instant impact in the next couple of weeks.

Changing things via transfers will not be easy, with yesterday’s capture of Carl Winchester taking Sunderland to their limit of their permitted salary-cap spending. Ideally, Johnson would like to move a couple of players out in order to bring new faces in, with Danny Graham and Aiden O’Brien both seemingly surplus to requirements in the final third. If that proves impossible to enact this month, he will focus his attention on youngsters aged 21 or under who do not count towards salary-cap calculations. Either way, he has decided that changes are required.

“I think we need a change of dynamic in a certain area of the pitch, although I don’t want to go into it any further,” said Johnson. “That will be the bit that will be most difficult for us – because of financial headroom that we have or haven’t got, or might have to create, and also because of the backlog of various injuries that we’ve got.

“You’re either taking a chance with a young pup that hasn’t played and is at Premier League level, or you’re going and trying to recruit someone on a permanent, which is difficult for us because of the salary cap headroom. But you don’t get a job when you’re top of the league and absolutely flying, so we’ve got to hustle in this period and we’re ready to go with that.”

At the same time, Johnson will be working with the current squad to try to improve their standard of execution in the final third. Time and again at the weekend, Sunderland’s players got themselves into decent positions in and around the 18-yard box, only to butcher their final pass or cross.

The standard of their set-piece delivery was especially poor – and already appears to be a real bugbear for Johnson – while a lack of numbers in the opposition penalty area was once again an issue until Lynden Gooch was introduced at half-time to play in the ‘number ten’ position just behind Charlie Wyke.

A midfield unit of Grant Leadbitter, Max Power and Josh Scowen provides defensive solidity, but offers precious little when it comes to breaking forward to support a central striker. At least when Gooch is in there, Sunderland have someone whose natural instinct is to look to score a goal.

“We have to find ways to influence the game and be better with our game management,” admitted Johnson. “I thought we were much better in the second half. We turned them, and got Goochy in and around Charlie, who was busy. That then allowed the back four to get up a bit more, and we played quicker, forward.

“At the moment, we’re burning too many situations. Midfielders need to receive and quickly play forward because then that gives us a chance to win it higher up the pitch. We’ve been doing the energy and discipline, and barring mistakes we wouldn’t have conceded in four or five games.

“But when I talk about demanding things, it’s about demanding the right execution. Take set-plays for example, it’s not good enough to hit that first man. That’s what I mean. Yes, we support them, but at the same time we need to have that demand internally. We must demand things of them.”

In fairness to the Black Cats, their task against Hull became much harder than it would otherwise have been when Lee Burge’s howler put them on the back foot in the 13th minute.

The goalkeeper had needed some lengthy treatment after Hull forward Mallik Wilks caught his eye in a collision in the 18-yard box, and failed to reappear for the second half with Johnson reporting he had been suffering from impaired vision, so he has to be afforded a degree of leeway for his mistake. That said, though, he has made a mess of dealing with crosses already this season, so his failure to gather George Honeyman’s routine free-kick was hardly out of character. Reece Burke was left with the simple task of swivelling to fire home.

Sunderland levelled within eight minutes of falling behind, with Aiden McGeady heading home Jack Diamond’s cross to claim his first goal since November 2019. Johnson has restored McGeady to the starting line-up, and clearly wants the Irishman to continue being more of a factor at the heart of the opposition’s box.

“I was pleased McGeady was in that position,” said Johnson. “I’ve been working hard with him because his nature is to pick up that ball that the keeper punches to the edge of the box. I believe it's a numbers game in the area, and I believe that where he scored from is where you get your goals as a wide player.”

Hull’s two best chances of a winner were wasted by Tom Eaves, who thumped a header against the crossbar when he was unmarked six yards out before directing another headed effort too close to Burge, who made a decent save.

The closest Sunderland came to a winner was the second-half effort that Wyke prodded wide after Max Power drilled a cross across the face of the six-yard box from his position as a makeshift right-back.

Wyke seemed surprised that the ball got through to him – there was no shock, however, when his failure to convert meant yet another of Sunderland's home games finished 1-1.