MICHAEL Turner and captain Lee Cattermole have been the most lamented of Sunderland’s crocks during the descent down the Premier League table.
If any solace is be to taken from a third game out of four where the Black Cats have been swatted aside with pathetic ease, then it is that two of Steve Bruce’s chief lieutenants were able to gain some of the match fitness blatantly lacking.
Both will need to be nearer to the talismen they were for the opening half of the campaign if Sunderland are to vanquish any growing relegation worries against West Bromwich Albion this weekend.
While Sunderland are probably two points better off than they would need to be if they were to get engulfed in the dogfight, they are still playing like a side at the wrong end of the table.
There was no confidence on show at City yesterday, few signs of ending a goal drought that now stands at 440 minutes and a glaring absence of any defensive fortitude.
It was a questionable decision from Bruce anyway to throw Cattermole and Turner straight into the starting XI when they are suffering from the after-effects of their long absences. There were other options on the bench.
But Titus Bramble’s injury, coupled with Bruce’s determination to get Cattermole back into central midfield with Jordan Henderson so clearly suffering, obviously forced the manager’s thinking.
Neither looked anywhere near sharp.
Turner was forced to produce a comical handball to stop Mario Balotelli racing past him and was then fortunate to get away with leaning all over the Italian as both went for a ball over the top.
The ex-Hull centre-half struggled to keep up to speed with the slick and quick approach play of City’s front four, although he wasn’t the only one.
Likewise, Cattermole was distinctly second best against arguably the game’s outstanding player, Yaya Toure, who physically bossed the Sunderland captain throughout.
Cattermole was fortunate to escape a yellow card for a number of petulant challenges as he struggled to go toe-to-toe with Toure’s behemoth frame.
And there was a bitter irony that it was Cattermole’s lackadaisical and brainless pass back which Toure latched on to and dinked past Simon Mignolet for City’s fifth.
The big worry for Sunderland and Bruce is that those two at least had some mitigation. There were no excuses for the rest.
It’s all right berating the fixture list and how Sunderland were not expected to beat the likes of Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool and Manchester City.
But conceding 18 goals, scoring five and taking a solitary point from seven games, inevitably has a hugely detrimental effect on hearts and minds.
At the back, Sunderland bore no resemblance to the side who looked so hard to beat earlier in the campaign with a catalogue of errors.
Sulley Muntari abandoned his stewardship of Toure for the opener to allow the Ivory Coast midfielder to pull it back to Adam Johnson.
Then Sunderland’s defence was even softer in allowing David Silva’s dinked ball over the top to get to Carlos Tevez, who plunged to the floor and presented Howard Webb with the opportunity to hand City the crucial second.
It was game over then.
There was a fortunate deflection off Turner which gifted Silva a tap-in for City’s third.
But Tevez had already caused the problem by being allowed to ghost along the back line without drifting offside as John Mensah ball-watched.
If Sunderland were abject at the back, they were equally devoid of purpose at the other end.
Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck weren’t to blame directly, both doing as well as anyone with their hold-up play and movement.
Gyan went closest for Bruce’s men with a snapshot that drifted just wide of Joe Hart’s post. But you can’t persistently conjure chances out of thin air and that’s what the front duo had to work with.
There was no service to either – Stephane Sessegnon flattering to deceive, Muntari not the player he looks for his country and Henderson’s confidence hitting rock bottom.
It needs to be vastly improved against the Baggies at either end of the pitch.
Turner and Cattermole will stand up to the challenge, no matter how sharp they are or aren’t.
The question is, will the rest?