Sunderland AFC analysis: We’ve been here before.. but this team isn’t doing enough and looks doomed to relegation

Jason Denayer goes down hurt
Jason Denayer goes down hurt
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If the sight of watching Sunderland slump to another defeat was too much to stomach, then the sounds of another sold-out away end would have been enough to keep track of events.

The second half saw the 2,700 strong following go through the various stages of grief, from anger, defiance, to gallows humour.

Victor Anichebe

Victor Anichebe

There were ironic cheers when Sunderland strung some passes together, some choice chants about the quality of the team, renditions of ‘things can only get better’.

Yet there was little sense of hope, for they could see just how far away this Sunderland team is from stringing together a run of results that will keep them afloat.

We have been here before, of course. At each stage of the last five seasons there has been a moment, often more than one, when Sunderland have looked doomed to relegation.

Each time, they have managed to pull it together at the last.

Jermain Defoe

Jermain Defoe

If they do it again this year, it will be the most remarkable escape of them all. For at the moment they are a soft-centred side, shorn of both creativity and defensive steel.

Their demise against West Brom was all too familiar.

The gameplan, for it was worth, appeared to be to keep hold of the ball better than they had in recent weeks. To try and cut out the long balls that have littered their play, to be robust in the air at the back and build from there.

Again, it was undone by poor positioning in defence. This is a limited team but the lack of organisation, concentration and discipline is inexcusable.

George Honeyman was a bright spark on another tough day

George Honeyman was a bright spark on another tough day

The pattern of the first half was easy to read. West Brom, canny and well drilled under Tony Pulis, looked to get their in-form winger, Matt Phillips, involved whenever possible.

Whether it be through chipped passes into space, direct balls straight to his head, he was their out ball and Sunderland simply didn’t cope.

It was his smart play that should have forced the opener, Nacer Chadli blazing a simple cross out of play. Inevitability, it was his cross that led to Chris Brunt settling the contest with a fine strike into the top corner.

Sunderland’s problems down that left flank were a microcosm of what is going so wrong at the moment. On the one hand, a very talented footballer who is not performing anywhere near his best. Patrick van Aanholt gave Fletcher far too much time to score the opener, and after losing a couple of duels with Phillips, seemed to largely give up the ghost.

For the second, he left Papy Djilobodji, a player who has at times not looked cut out for this level, on his own try and deal with the attack. Unsurprisingly, he was found wanting. The pair, through a lack of application on the one hand and quality on the other, were a weak spot all afternoon.

On such brittle foundations, succesful teams are not built.

Ben Foster was a passenger to proceedings, panicked only when a van Aanholt shot took a wicked deflection and looped towards the far corner.

Sunderland were short of cutting edge, a clearly frustrated Jermain Defoe forced to leave the areas where his is most dangerous, dropping deep in an attempt to find a way to influence the game.

It is far from all over.

Jordan Pickford is nearing a return and he is someone who can spark a revival, who will win points on his own.

Victor Anichebe is back in action and can help lift Defoe again, allowing Sunderland to return to the formula that was bearing some fruit in November.

True, too, that Sunderland improved in a switch to 4-4-2 in the second half. Many, understandbly, will see that as clutching at straws.