Analysis: Long winter of discontent looms unless Sunderland can turn around home form

Sunderland striker Jermain Defpe slides home his opening goal in Saturday's defeat to Crystal Palace. Picture by Frank Reid
Sunderland striker Jermain Defpe slides home his opening goal in Saturday's defeat to Crystal Palace. Picture by Frank Reid
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Sunderland stayed up last season thanks, in part, to some big wins on home turf.

In the second half of the campaign, Aston Villa, Manchester United, Chelsea and Everton were all sent packing from Wearside with their tails firmly between their legs.

Sunderland also drew with Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, West Brom and Arsenal on their way to safety.

From the turn of the year, Premier League survival was built on solid home form.

It wasn’t always pretty, but Sam Allardyce found a team and system that got results.

Fast forward to this season and the Black Cats are shipping goals for fun at the Stadium of Light – eight in three matches.

It has become the Stadium of Fright, with the team conceding three second-half goals in successive matches.

Against Everton, Sunderland crumbled, falling apart in the space of 11 minutes.

It wasn’t as dramatic against Palace, with their three goals spread over half an hour, but it was more galling given the way Sunderland inexplicably chucked away their lead.

Even at this early stage of the season, it felt like a crushing, significant defeat.

It is too early to panic, but Sunderland’s defensive frailties – throughout the entire team – are a huge concern. The lack of concentration is, at times, frightening.

In the build-up, Moyes said he wanted the Stadium of Light to become an “ugly” venue for opposing teams.

The only ugly thing on Saturday was Sunderland’s defending.

Moyes was right when he criticised the players post-match and called on them to take more responsibility – the goals were down to basic errors and rank bad defending.

But the manager has to take his fair share of the blame too.

Sunderland opted to use zonal marking in the final seconds of the game to defend a dangerous free-kick.

It meant Christian Benteke – one of the best headers of the ball in the Premier League – had a free nine-yard run at goal, powering to the ball ahead of Jan Kirchhoff to snatch victory.

Benteke should have been man marked and not given the opportunity in the first place.

The stadium emptied as the ball hit the back of the net. Fans let down once again.

Sunderland were comprehensively beaten by Everton, while the defeat to Middlesbrough was equally demoralising for supporters struggling to see where the first league win is coming from.

Even after leading 2-0, a point would have felt like a disappointing result, but at least Sunderland would have kept up the momentum after the QPR cup win.

Instead, the pressure gauge is now off the chart ahead of the visit of mid-table West Bromwich Albion, the Baggies already have eight points from their opening six matches.

It is hard to see through the doom and gloom at times, but there were some positives: Jermain Defoe was back from his calf knock and back in form.

His two finishes again showed his class. Where would Sunderland be without him? Playing Championship football, that’s where.

Didier Ndong showed what he has to offer, with his non-stop running and no-nonsense challenges.

Once the long balls stopped, the service to Defoe improved, with both Patrick van Aanholt and Javier Manquillo, who helped initiate the move for the second goal, involved.

But the same issues continue to dog Sunderland.

There is a real communication and concentration issue at the back, with the side missing the organisational skills of John O’Shea.

O’Shea, at the age of 35, isn’t the long-term solution, but he may be the short-term answer to Sunderland’s defensive woes.

Adnan Januzaj was poor, with the Manchester United loanee needing to offer much more in the final third.

And Sunderland were dealt another injury blow 15 minutes in, Steven Pienaar going off with a hamstring injury.

In all honesty, it was an awful first 45 minutes, with the game devoid of clear chances and flowing football.

Sunderland went in at the break leading 1-0, though, thanks to Defoe capitalising on an awful error by Joe Ledley.

It was a poor pass to the midfielder from Eagles keeper Steve Mandanda, but Ledley – under pressure from Januzaj – panicked and lofted the ball back towards his own goal.

Defoe did what he does best, and nipped in for a clinical finish.

By 4.18pm, Sunderland fans were in dreamland.

Defoe, with a smart volley after an assist by sub Duncan Watmore, scored his second and Sunderland were in control.

The feelgood factor lasted all of 30 seconds.

Van Aanholt failed to deal with a long ball into the box, Ledley connected well with the loose ball, which took a big deflection off the Dutch left-back’s boot to wrong-foot Pickford.

Alan Pardew then made some shrewd substitutions – all three of whom had an instant impact.

With his side 2-1 down, on came ex-Sunderland forward Connor Wickham, and he was a thorn in the side of his former team.

Wickham constantly won free-kicks to keep the pressure on the edge of Sunderland’s area.

Anxiety and nerves filled the Wearside air.

With 15 minutes left, on came Zeki Fryers and within a minute he had provided the cross for James McArthur to score the equaliser, with van Aanholt beaten in the air.

Manquillo was then judged to have bundled Wickham over unfairly in the corner, much to the dismay of the home support.

Up stepped Pardew’s final sub, Lee Chung-Yong – who had been on the field less than a minute – to whip the ball in for Benteke to power home.

The club’s video analysis team will be working overtime this week dissecting the basic errors that led to Sunderland surrendering what should have been their first win.

It was a crushing defeat ahead of what threatens to be another long winter of discontent on Wearside.

Only victory over West Brom this weekend can help lift some of the gloom.