Rowell Report: Hammers loss a cruel blow – but can be no excuses for Sunderland

Ex-Sunderland footballer Gary Rowell

Ex-Sunderland footballer Gary Rowell

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FOOTBALL has a habit of kicking you when you’re down, and that’s what happened to Sunderland on Saturday at West Ham.

Diafra Sakho’s late winner was a cruel blow, but at least they showed a bit more spirit and desire, compared to the shambles of the previous game against Aston Villa.

New manager Dick Advocaat sprang a surprise, with his first team selection being a bold one as he opted to start the game with three strikers.

However, despite a better looking shape and organisation to the team, the result was depressingly familiar – a defeat – and again we couldn’t score.

There was a hard luck story, of course, when Seb Larsson, who was just about to make a routine headed clearance, was wiped out seconds before West Ham’s late winner.

In fact, it was probably an assault more than a foul, which the referee somehow missed, but to be fair, West Ham could claim he should have awarded them a penalty earlier.

Sunderland, though, can’t make any excuses for a huge game-changing incident, when Jermain Defoe failed to convert a chance that for him, nine times out of 10, would have ended up in the back of the net.

At this level, you won’t get many better chances, and if the Hammers had gone a goal behind, their fans, who haven’t been too pleased with Sam Allardyce’s team of late, could have turned, making Sunderland’s job far easier.

I expect Advocaat will be closely analysing his team’s performance in his first 90 minutes in charge, looking for any positives and ways to improve.

For me, one of those positives was Connor Wickham, who likes this time of year, and how we could do with him producing his form from the end of last season.

Sunderland need leaders now, people with the mental strength and character to take the responsibility of dragging the team out of this situation they find themselves in, as Wickham did 12 months ago.

Fortunately for Sunderland, everybody else at the bottom was beaten, so no ground was lost.

However, a draw, which looked possible for so long at a tricky away venue, would have not only gained a valuable point, but also boosted morale and belief at a time when the players need every scrap of confidence they can get.