NO DISGRACE, yet still no points, writes Chris Young.
Only Tottenham have taken any spoils off Manchester United in the Premier League in 2013 and yesterday’s 1-0 loss to the leaders, via a pair of fortuitous deflections, is far from the worst result Sunderland have registered this season.
But such is the precariousness of Sunderland’s situation, that moral successes hold no weight at the moment. Wigan’s win over Norwich yesterday means that the Black Cats are just a point clear of the drop zone – having played a game more than the Latics and Aston Villa, who meet Liverpool today.
The remaining Stadium of Light games may offer more scope – on paper at least – for greater returns, but a fifth defeat in eight, regardless of the opposition, only further increases the sense of doom surrounding Wearside.
Neither was this a result where Sunderland could claim to have been cast in the role of unlucky losers, who had rocked their loftier-placed opponents, only for an elusive equaliser to elude them.
United were worthy winners. Without hitting top gear, they controlled and cruised through the encounter, even when Sunderland built up a head of steam in the second half.
The biggest concern is that the Black Cats never once drew David De Gea into a meaningful save.
A lack of urgency and lack of belief in a desperately lacklustre first half saw United’s back-line barely break sweat.
Craig Gardner, restored to a central midfield role in the league for the first time since December’s defeat at Old Trafford, tried to inject some bite into Sunderland’s play.
But Sunderland were static in the final third, strolling almost lethargically in support of the man in possession before the ball was carelessly squandered.
The frustrating aspect was that United weren’t at their most fluent best going forward either.
John O’Shea contained Robin van Persie effectively and although Ashley Young enjoyed plenty of joy against the rusty Phil Bardsley, United didn’t create a catalogue of opportunities.
But after van Persie’s rocket deflected off both Bardsley and Titus Bramble into the far corner, any meagre stuffing was knocked out of Sunderland and it was tame fare until the half-time whistle produced the inevitable chorus of boos.
There was clearly a rocket from Martin O’Neill at the interval and it had the desired effect.
Although the crowd were initially only cajoled by the decisions of referee Kevin Friend, Sunderland gradually began to show some fight.
O’Neill’s side even managed to enjoy a handful of sustained periods of possession inside the United half.
Yet still De Gea went untroubled.
It was hard not to feel a little sympathy for Danny Graham, the lone striker in the absence of injured top scorer Steven Fletcher. The January signing won his share of flick-ons and tried to unsettle United’s defence, but he didn’t even have scraps to feed off.
That is the big concern in Sunderland’s survival bid.
In the six goals the Black Cats have mustered over the last eight games, three of them have come from the penalty spot.
With Fletcher crocked, Graham goalless and Sessegnon’s return to form not lasting, Sunderland can’t boast a Christian Benteke or Arouna Kone like their relegation rivals.
The goals need to begin though.
Next Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge won’t offer much more hope of them than hosting United.
But, at this stage, there are no nothing-to-lose games. Every defeat is a costly one.
* Don’t miss the biggest and best coverage of SAFC in the Football Echo out tomorrow morning.