Gary Rowell: Sunderland need to defend better than at Stoke

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SUNDERLAND’S defeat at Stoke on Saturday was very much like Sunderland’s defeat at Wolves in November - 2-1 up and looking good in the final 10 minutes - 3-2 down at the final whistle.

You shouldn’t lose from a position of leading going into the last 10 minutes but Sunderland have managed it twice in the last three months and it was made all the harder to bear by the fact that they had played so much the better football in the game that just taking a point from it would have been viewed as a disappointment.

These are the games that kill you whether you’re a fan, a player or a manager.

In a strange way, taking a two or three nil spanking is something you can often bounce back from farily easily but last minute goals to lost games you should have won, never mind drawn, can leave you on the floor.

It all came down to this: we were better than them in open play; they were better than us at set-pieces - but they were miles better than us at set-pieces.

I’m not going to have a go at Stoke for the way they play, though it isn’t pretty and it isn’t attractive.

If you have something you’re good at, that can win you the game, then the usual rule is that you do it as often as you can.

No team works for set-pieces as much as Stoke and no-one in the division does it as effectively as them, so why shouldn’t they play to their strengths?

They got the breaks on the day with the officials not doing their job well for Stoke’s two offside goals but then we got the breaks when Lee Cattermole hand-balled in the Stoke game at the Stadium of Light.

The bottom line is that Sunderland needed to defend better than they did on the day.

And what’s so disappointing and what has left everyone so flat is that Sunderland came so close to taking all three points and that would have kept them in sixth place and kept them ticking over in the midst of a daunting set of fixtures.