Football Echo Verdict: Alarm bells ringing

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NONE of the statistics surrounding Sunderland this season make pleasant reading, writes Chris Young.

But seven goals conceded in three home games is an alarming one considering Sunderland’s defensive resilience has been one of the few encouraging aspects to a campaign which continues to underwhelm so dramatically.

All four of West Brom’s goals a fortnight ago were preventable and the three Chelsea plundered yesterday were equally self-inflicted.

When either the attack or defence are misfiring, it’s one thing. When both are struggling, the volume on the alarm bells creeps up several notches.

Sunderland couldn’t argue they hadn’t been warned about Chelsea’s attacking riches as the visitors spurned three golden opportunities inside the opening six minutes.

But then the Black Cats proceeded to gift Chelsea three goals which ultimately saw them coast to a first Premier League victory since October.

Phil Bardsley needlessly gifted possession and then Carlos Cuellar committed himself – albeit there was a strong hint of a foul – for Fernando Torres’s first goal.

Seb Larsson mindlessly lunged into Ramires on the stroke of half-time, with Torres converting the resulting penalty, when a one-goal deficit at the interval would have given Sunderland genuine hope of overturning the deficit.

And then Bardsley, tellingly replaced with 25 minutes to go, compounded a miserable afternoon with a dreadful first touch to Victor Moses’s right-wing cross when Juan Mata made it three.

Such needlessly reckless defending scuppered any prospect of Sunderland beginning back-to-back home games with an unexpected victory.

What was particularly galling, was that Chelsea weren’t particularly resilient at the back either.

Petr Cech flapped at everything which entered his territory and Chelsea were genuinely on the back-foot during Sunderland’s moments of pressure midway through either half, as the Stadium of Light crowd roared them on.

Sunderland showed genuine spirit and intent during those periods, as they had from the opening whistle in fairness, as they looked to get in Chelsea’s faces and muster some all-too-rarely seen tempo.

With Adam Johnson and James McClean both offering a threat down the flanks, and Connor Wickham continuing from last week’s defeat at Norwich by holding the ball up adeptly, Sunderland were capable of putting pressure on the Chelsea goal.

But they were undone by those defensive clangers, particularly Larsson’s slide in on Ramires which completely knocked the stuffing out of the Black Cats on the stroke of half-time.

Chelsea were able to coast through those opening 20 minutes of the second half, particularly after Mata added the third, rather than Sunderland piling on the pressure in search of an equaliser.

Had Johnson’s free-kick, after he notched first goal at the Stadium of Light, crept inside Cech’s top corner, then it would have made for a blockbuster of a finale.

But it didn’t and Sunderland now find themselves facing the ultimate task of steering their way out of the bottom three.

Should Sunderland reproduce the same spirit, tempo and purpose against Reading on Tuesday night, then they will register the victory they so desperately require.

But playing without pressure against one of the big boys is a different proposition to meeting one of the dogfight peers.

The nervous tension will be prevalent, both in the dressing room and on the terraces, against the Royals and Sunderland must deal with that.

For Tuesday’s encounter is by far the biggest of the season.