I HAVE seen some bad derby performances in my time – usually against Newcastle – but Tuesday night was as disappointing as it gets for me.
There was no urgency or passion and we had all the intensity of a pre-season match, in a game which could have put us in the last eight of a major cup competition.
Sunderland were the better team for the opening 10 minutes, but for the next 80, it was Middlesbrough all the way and there was no doubt that the better team on the night won.
I would say that is the worst I have seen Sunderland play under Martin O’Neill and it has to act as a major wake-up call for the team because yet again a great opportunity has been and gone.
Sunderland couldn’t have wished for a better draw and I don’t think I have felt as disappointed after a game for a long time. I know the result and the performance has hit the fans hard.
I am convinced we can do so much better and incredibly, there will be 40,000 turning up at the Stadium of Light again on Saturday giving great support.
But they will be demanding so much more than they got on Tuesday night and they will be right to do so.
The lack of goals is something that has haunted us all season.
Looking back to 7pm on Tuesday when the team sheet came out, O’Neill picked the team most of us wanted to see.
A lot of people wanted to see Louis Saha have a go up front with Steven Fletcher and there were two wingers out there. It was not a team set up to sit back and defend.
So the problems has to lie with these players just being bang out of form. Even Fletcher’s levels are starting to drop now.
It can change quickly. I played in teams that could not buy a goal and then suddenly couldn’t stop scoring.
You’ve just got to believe, keep your confidence and be mentally strong.
And at least in a way, you can see what is going wrong because I have seen so many Sunderland teams where you wondered where to start.
But a result like that can dent confidence both in the team and the crowd and that is where you need to bounce back, making the Villa game on Saturday so important.
READ the full Gary Rowell column in Thursday’s Echo