PERHAPS a point won’t look quite so bad if Sunderland can emerge victorious in another crunch clash against a fellow struggler, Norwich City, next weekend.
But there was still an inescapable sense of dejection at Sunderland’s failure to get the better of what was a very average Crystal Palace side.
This felt like a pivotal weekend in the Premier League survival battle.
It felt like a day when Sunderland had to rid themselves of the homesickness which has plagued them for the last three seasons and, by hook or crook, put an invaluable three points on the board.
There wouldn’t be a better chance to edge the club from panic-stricken to plain-old nervy.
Instead, it followed the pattern of far too many Stadium of Light recent encounters, particularly galling given this was Sunderland’s biggest home attendance since the Wear-Tyne derby.
Gus Poyet’s side huffed and puffed plenty with no lack of application or determination, yet lacked the necessary quality to blow Crystal Palace’s defences down.
For all Sunderland dominated possession and Palace were happy to show that it’s not just Stoke who can master Tony Pulis’ brand of Six Nations football, there was little to show for their efforts.
In total, there were only three meaningful opportunities from Sunderland – two of which were in a matter of seconds from Fabio Borini, while Jozy Altidore was unfortunate to be denied by a splendid save from Julian Speroni.
Admittedly, the conditions didn’t help the Black Cats. The wind swirling around the Stadium of Light, coupled with the state of the pitch, inevitably made the encounter even more scrappier than it already promised to be.
And, in the first half particularly, Palace rode their luck as the richochets just managed to dart out of the path of the red and white shirts.
But Poyet’s side struggled to get in behind Palace, notably in the second half when anxiety and the temptation to go more direct neutered the majority of Sunderland’s attacking threat.
On another day, Borini’s shot might have gone in, rather than crash against the woodwork, or Speroni might not have got a hand to Altidore’s shot on the turn.
Yet there have been too many of those days at home recently.
Those sides who beat the drop keep their heads, especially in the final third, and that’s a habit Sunderland need to grasp over the final 11 games.
As a crumb of comfort, it could have been much, much worse if Kagisho Dikgacoi’s last-gasp effort had drifted an inch or two the other way.
But that was a small crumb.
Sunderland have now failed to score at home against Norwich, Aston Villa, Hull and Crystal Palace. That spells trouble.
Victory would have given Sunderland the real platform to look upwards and strive to get safe before the season enters it’s final hairpin bends.
But just 24 hours after the rearranged encounter with West Brom was confirmed for the final week of the campaign, Sunderland have the air of a side who will still be battling for points by then.
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