DESPITE defying the odds to finish in the top six in their first season back in the Championship, Sunderland were plagued by a rather significant issue last term.

"Listen, I’ve said all along our home record needs to be improved," said Mowbray on one occasion in the second half of last season. It was a regular talking point in the head coach's press conferences and on several occasions looked to be the issue that would result in the Black Cats coming up short in their bid for a top six finish.

Sunderland picked up nine more points away from home than they did at the Stadium of Light last term and only one won more game on home turf than relegated Blackpool.

Mowbray's side only won one of their last eight home games last season and in five of those games failed to score more than a single goal.

"That's a conundrum for us," said Mowbray last season.

But it's an issue that appears to have been fixed. If not completely, then Sunderland are undoubtedly on the right track. The Black Cats have won five of their eight home games so far this term, just two shy of the number of victories they managed on Wearside in the entirety of last season.

It's no secret that the reason Sunderland found playing at home so difficult last season was the fact that for the most part they were without a recognised striker. As Mowbray said on several occasions, he would love to have "mixed it up" at home last season but the fact they didn't have a natural line-leading centre-forward made that difficult. It meant teams could set up to stifle and frustrate and basically challenge Sunderland to try and pick the lock.

Sunderland have managed to solve their home conundrum without goals from strikers, but at least they now have natural frontmen to play off.

What will please Mowbray this season is the fact his side have passed different challenges at home. They blew Southampton away when the Saints tried to go toe-to-to. And they were rewarded for admirably sticking to their task against Rotherham when they fell behind and Watford, when it became clear very early on that could very easily turned into 'one of those days'. Birmingham last time out was a game Sunderland were expected to win and they professionally took care of business.

Yes, Sunderland have lost three times at home but the Ipswich defeat came on the first day of the season when work on the squad was still ongoing, the second half collapse against Middlesbrough came on the back of Dan Neil's red card and the Cardiff loss was very much a smash and grab. There are some interesting challenges ahead. Before the year is out, Sunderland host Huddersfield and Coventry, two games they'd be expected to win, but also in a four-day period, welcome West Brom and Leeds to the Stadium of Light. That will be a telling few days.


The first game back after the break is a trip to Plymouth, whose expensive approach should play into the hands of the Black Cats.

Before that comes a balancing act for Mowbray, who finds international stoppages like this one frustrating - particularly on the back of a win - but tries to put it to good use.

"Sometimes you think you'll do some work with the team but then you think of who is away - Hume, Huggins and Ballard are all away so you can't do any work with the back line unless you use the young players," he says.

"Work with strikers, yeah, we do that every day, so really you talk about team work and you can't work with the team until the Thursday of the second week.

"If anything, these breaks are a bit frustrating, they put the brakes on how quickly you'd accelerate the work as a team and how we're going to play and the jobs the players have to do, and you're hoping they come back fit.

"Other than that it's a chance for the boys who have been playing regularly and aren't involved with the internationals to be with their families and go and relax, if they want to get on a plane and go somewhere with a bit of sun, they go and do that. They keep ticking over then that second week we prepare for the next game."