Richard Mennear’s analysis: Bleak times for Sunderland after agonising last-gasp defeat to West Ham United

Jordan Pickford berates his defenders after Sunderland succumbed to a late defeat at West Ham. Picture by Frank Reid
Jordan Pickford berates his defenders after Sunderland succumbed to a late defeat at West Ham. Picture by Frank Reid
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Jordan Pickford let out a huge sigh as he walked from the dressing rooms of the London Stadium past the media mixed zone to the waiting team coach.

It summed up the current plight facing Sunderland. The England Under-21 international had performed well, yet once again he was left picking the ball out of his net late on.

Bottom of the table, without a win, morale and confidence on the slide – the club is already five points adrift of safety.

It is a desperate situation facing the Black Cats who had to avoid defeat at West Ham United to avoid the worst start to a Premier League season by any club this century.

They failed to do that, the Hammers scoring the winner with almost the last kick of the game. It was heartbreaking, gut-wrenching and painful to watch.

Not since Sheffield Wednesday in 1999 have a club recorded two points or fewer in their opening nine games of a top-flight campaign.

The other team with a worse start, Manchester City, had just one point from their opening nine games back in the 1995-96 season.

Both City and Wednesday went on to be relegated.

Even Aston Villa, relegated by mid-April this year, boasted four points from their first nine outings last season.

A similar fate is staring Sunderland square in the face unless they can find an upturn in form from somewhere.

Any positive news? Sunderland actually defended well for 93 minutes and 30 seconds but then switched off at the crucial point, gifting the win to West Ham.

After an awful opening 20 minutes, the Black Cats forced their way into the match well and finally started to create some chances, it could all have been so different had Wahbi Khazri scored.

And the injury crisis is easing, with Lamine Kone and Patrick van Aanholt both starting against Slaven Bilic’s side. Kone added some much-needed steel.

Adnan Januzaj should return to training this week, with Jan Kirchhoff and Jason Denayer not too far off either.

But even with the return of those additional resources, is the squad good enough to stay up?

And how long will it be before Moyes can name his strongest 11? Irreparable damage may have already been done by that stage.

The alarm bells were ringing loud and clear after last week’s defeat to Stoke City and the pressure – and anger and frustration amongst the fans – ramps up with every defeat.

Sunderland are now only the second team in top-flight history to fail to win any of their opening nine league games in consecutive seasons, following Bury in 1905 and 1906.

That is an embarrassing statistic.

Naturally, the pressure is rising on manager David Moyes after nine games without a Premier League win.

The club, though, is crying out for stability. That was the message before the game from both Moyes and chief executive Martin Bain.

And it remains the case today, with little appetite from above to make another managerial change.

Moyes was visibly devastated in the aftermath of the game, his team had worked hard for 93 and a bit minutes and deserved a point.

But the same old problems continue to haunt them. A lack of concentration late on and a failure to see the game out.

Four times now this season Sunderland have conceded after the 85th minute, shipping late goals and crucial points at Manchester City, Southampton, West Ham and at home to Crystal Palace.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but Moyes may reflect on his substitutions. Sunderland invited pressure onto themselves in the final stages after Billy Jones was brought on.

Should Victor Anichebe have been brought on instead to try and hold the ball up at the other end of the pitch and relieve some pressure?

It is not Moyes’ fault, though, that Winston Reid was left free on the edge of the area – too many of the Sunderland players had switched off and were not prepared for the short corner.

Pickford was unsighted as the ball came through a crowd of players, but, despite strong calls for offside, replays showed that sub Jonathan Calleri, who was stood in front of Pickford, was level with Jack Rodwell.

A hammer blow in every sense.

In truth, West Ham should have been out of sight early on after dominating the opening 20 minutes.

Simone Zaza was causing problems in the air, dangerman Dimitri Payet curled an effort inches wide of the post, while the French ace saw another effort blocked by Pickford. Payet then hit the post after creating space for himself.

It took Sunderland until the half hour stage to muster anything resembling a chance, Jermain Defoe’s effort blocked before van Aanholt’s poor free-kick hit the wall.

Jack Rodwell headed over a Khazri free-kick, Defoe couldn’t get enough on another effort, with van Aanholt then blasting over the bar.

After a difficult start, Sunderland, backed by a 3,000-strong away following, grew into the game.

West Ham were the better side, with Zaza’s acrobatic overhead attempt sailing a yard wide of the post, but Sunderland were well in the contest.

Khazri missed a gilt-edged chance less than two minutes after the restart, the ball deflecting into his path, but he squandered the chance.

Zaza almost made them pay moments later, but Kone recovered well to snuff out the danger.

Sunderland were competing, defending doggedly and showing more intent going forward, but, as the half wore on, Defoe was becoming more isolated, with the visitors sitting deeper and again inviting pressure.

In the end, they couldn’t hold out. Reid’s goal from a Payet short corner was effectively the last kick of the game, with no time to respond.

A goalless draw, while hardly inspiring and not what is needed, would have been a decent result, overall, with the first clean sheet of the season to boot too.

But it was snatched away at the death. Sickening.

Sunderland have a break from league action in midweek, with a long trip to Southampton in the fourth round of the EFL Cup next up.

The Black Cats are doing well in that competition, potentially just 90 minutes away from a quarter-final spot. They can’t buy a win in the league, though.

As painful as it is for fans, players and the coaching staff alike, the picture is looking increasingly bleak.