Chris Young’s SAFC analysis: Time for home truths and consequences

Patrick van Aanholt and Liam Bridcutt despair at Southampton
Patrick van Aanholt and Liam Bridcutt despair at Southampton
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COST of admission through the St Mary’s turnstiles – £24.

Cost of coach travel for the 660-mile round trip to the south coast – £40.

Cost of pints, pies and pop – well, alcohol consumption increased significantly when fans entered the drowning sorrows stage on the journey home.

It could be an expensive exercise for Sunderland’s players if Vito Mannone’s plan to offer some kind of financial refund gets off the ground.

At the very least, the price of the tickets – which had admittedly already been discounted as an agreement between the two clubs – should be compensated.

But no price can be put on the pride which has been dented after such a horrifying mauling, or the subsequent humiliation from the television post-mortems.

On the terraces, in the dug-out, in the boardroom, on the pitch and back home on Wearside, this has been a thoroughly embarrassing weekend to be associated with Sunderland.

Everyone accepts losing, particularly against a decent side like Southampton.

Everyone accepts defensive blunders.

Even an own goal which prompted open laughter among the Southampton supporters can be brushed off with a splash of gallows humour.

But capitulation? Surrender? That’s another thing altogether.

The good-will stemming from a solid start to the season has evaporated in tandem with the confidence of Gus Poyet’s side.

Sunderland’s players have some making up to do which may require several months to complete.

They need to begin by making a hefty first instalment on that pay-back in this weekend’s Stadium of Light clash against Arsenal.

Poyet – far from blameless himself for Saturday’s shambles on the south coast – faces an uphill battle to restore some self-belief and positivity on the training ground this week in preparation for the visit of a Gunners side who head to Anderlecht in the Champions League on Wednesday.

The Uruguayan needs to stress that despite the humiliating margin of defeat, Sunderland have only lost one game; a game where they would have been chuffed to come away with anything anyway.

With injuries mounting for a threadbare squad, Poyet has minimal opportunity to wield the axe.

Aside from possible recalls for Jack Rodwell and Adam Johnson – and potentially a debut for Anthony Reveillere if he pens a short-term deal this week – there is little Poyet can realistically do to shuffle his pack.

The sight of Danny Graham and Cabral on the bench at St Mary’s said it all.

Here were two players among the substitutes who Sunderland had ceaselessly hawked around throughout the summer.

Cabral wasn’t even given a squad number back in August.

With minimal options for change, Poyet needs to rely on those who let the club down so badly at St Mary’s to dust themselves down, show some character and respond with aplomb this Saturday.

There was at least an indication after the full-time whistle that Poyet’s men won’t hide from the responsibilities of their actions.

The red faces in blue went towards those remaining in the away end to applaud them, before several were willing to perform post-match interview duties, rather than hiding in silence.

Santiago Vergini even asked to speak with the club website to apologise for his slapstick own goal.

But, together with restoring some dignity, Sunderland also need to rediscover some defensive solidity.

Southampton were given a two-goal head-start by a couple of comical mistakes, when Sunderland had actually been the better side for the opening 10 minutes, albeit without hurting the hosts.

But what followed was a staggering cluster of defensive ineptitude. It didn’t bear any resemblance to the side which looked so resilient in the previous seven games.

Perhaps some in Sunderland’s ranks lost their heads after referee Andre Marriner failed to hand the visitors a way back into the game when home goalkeeper Fraser Forster couldn’t have taken out Steven Fletcher any more clearly inside the box.

Certainly, Lee Cattermole and Seb Larsson were still remonstrating with Marriner when the teams re-emerged for the start of the second half.

At 2-1, against 10 men, it would have been very much game on. Instead, within two minutes, Sunderland were 3-0 down.

But refereeing clangers – particularly with Mr Marriner against Sunderland – happen. No player should be spending the remainder of the game preoccupied over one incident.

It was no excuse for the depths Sunderland trawled after the penalty shout either.

The basics were a foreign concept to Sunderland.

No midfield runners were tracked.

Neither Connor Wickham nor Will Buckley offered a helping hand defensively in halting the marauding runs of Southampton full-backs Nathaniel Clyne and Ryan Bertrand.

Southampton were able to to slice through Sunderland’s defence almost at walking pace.

Clyne, Bertrand, Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle scented blood against an enemy who had thrown in the towel and they got it.

There was no resistance whatsoever from the visitors. Even the grit of Cattermole was replaced by a bubbling, directionless frustration.

All that came from Sunderland was more mistakes – another own goal, a dreadful clearance from Mannone and more feeble attempts at marking.

Only once in a generation will supporters see footballing suicide that is so bad.

If Southampton had set their heart on reaching a dozen in that final half-hour, they probably could have done it.

Poyet didn’t help though with his substitutions.

Replacing Wes Brown with Liam Bridcutt and asking the midfielder to go to right-back was baffling and backfired spectacularly.

Bridcutt was simply ripped to shreds.

Removing Larsson from the field took away one of the few Sunderland players who was still willing to press and close down the Saints.

And then using Johnson in a central role, while the utterly ineffective Wickham stayed out wide, had no effect whatsoever in stemming the tide.

It simply gave Clyne and Tadic the chance to continue tormenting the out-of-breath Wickham.

Poyet must question his own contribution, as much as those who let him down so badly.

As his players left the field, Poyet barely made eye contract with them. He simply stood on the touchline with his arms folded, digesting the full horror of what he had just witnessed.

The Academy of Light today will doubtless be a quiet, eerie place.

Perhaps a no-holds-barred home truths session is needed. Perhaps the defeat has to be swept aside as one of those freak afternoons, just so that smiles can be restored to faces.

Those 2,600 who spent good money travelling to the south coast won’t forget though.

Payback time needs to begin this Saturday.

SOUTHAMPTON: Forster, Clyne, Fonte, Alderweireld, Bertrand, S Davis (Mane 65), Cork, Schneiderlin, Long (Wanyama 65), Pelle (Mayuka 80), Tadic. Subs not used: K Davis, Yoshida, Gardos, Reed. Booked: Schneiderlin (50)

SUNDERLAND: Mannone, Vergini, Brown (Bridcutt 46), O’Shea, van Aanholt, Cattermole, Larsson (Rodwell 60), Gomez (Johnson 60), Buckley, Wickham, Fletcher. Subs not used: Pantilimon, Mavrias, Graham, Cabral. Booked: Wickham (9), Cattermole (25), Bridcutt (82)

Attendance: 29,615. Referee: Andre Marriner