Sunderland’s defending is past slap-stick stage – it’s now kamikaze

Yann M'Vila takes a tumble
Yann M'Vila takes a tumble
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Just when Sunderland have produced a shot to the jaw which sends you plummeting to the canvas, they somehow manage to put the boot in with fresh kicks to the body.

Yes, no one genuinely expected Sunderland to progress into the Capital One Cup fourth round after such a tough draw.

Ola Toivonen scores a consolation for Sunderland

Ola Toivonen scores a consolation for Sunderland

Yes, Sunderland were facing a Manchester City side of sensational counter-attacking potency, with the £100million summer capture of Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne giving Manuel Pellegrini’s side another dimension.

Yes, for the second game in a row, Sunderland harshly saw a goal disallowed at a crucial stage of the game.

But it was no mitigation for fresh embarrassment. No excuse for Sunderland’s continuing kamikaze defending which is undermining any hope of the Black Cats reversing the trend from these first six-and-a-half weeks of the season.

Prior to the appointment of Dick Advocaat last March, there was a growing sense of apathy among Sunderland fans at the club’s continued deterioration, the lack of any seeming progress and the seemingly never-ending battle to scrape together enough points to remain in the Premier League.

Fabio Borini shows his dismay after his goal is ruled out

Fabio Borini shows his dismay after his goal is ruled out

That apathy is returning...fast, and it’s arguably becoming much more contagious than anger at Sunderland’s fresh plight.

Supporters have not voted with their feet yet, with another 20-odd thousand inside the Stadium of Light last night, but there’s a growing tide of people producing remarks along the lines of: “I’ve had enough”.

With only a win over League Two Exeter to their name this season – and that after conceding three times – Sunderland are beginning to reach dehydration point in their thirst for positive results.

On a practical level, what can Advocaat do for a trip to Old Trafford on Saturday, when Manchester United will be licking their lips at the prospect of complementing their solid start to the season with a cricket score?

Toivonen kicks out

Toivonen kicks out

There’s an obvious place to start. A tally of 17 first-half goals conceded in just eight games says it all.

Sunderland’s defending has now gone past the slap-stick stage. Continuing to push players forward when the game was clearly dead was suicidal against a side of City’s quality.

Above all else though, it is individual errors which are costing Sunderland time and again, and preventing the back-line drawing any hint of confidence.

It happened with Younes Kaboul at Bournemouth on Saturday, and there were fresh clangers last night.

Patrick van Aanholt’s challenge on Jesus Navas – for the penalty which saw Sergio Aguero open the scoring for City – was utterly wild, whether it was or wasn’t just inside the area.

The left-back – so shaky for the majority of this campaign – allowed De Bruyne to go past him for City’s second, while played Raheem Sterling onside for the fourth.

In his sporadic appearances, Vito Mannone continues to look a shadow of the player who played such a pivotal role in Sunderland’s march to face Man City in the Capital One Cup final two seasons ago too.

The Italian’s confidence just looks shot. He was beaten too easily by De Bruyne and needlessly intercepted Bacary Sagna’s cross before ricocheting the ball into his own net.

Sebastian Coates – run ragged by Sergio Aguero at the Stadium of Light last season – is equally lacking in self-belief, even when he is alongside the steadying presence of John O’Shea.

Defending starts from the front too and Jeremain Lens and Ola Toivonen need to offer much more in tracking back.

When Lee Cattermole entered the fray at the interval and Sunderland used a more conservative 4-1-4-1 set-up, they were marginally more solid, yet City were on cruise control by then.

The defensive vulnerability undermines any progress further forwards.

In an attacking sense, Sunderland look far more threatening than last season, both before and after Aguero’s penalty, passing the ball crisply and intelligently.

Fabio Borini offers a better all-round presence than alternative central striker Jermain Defoe and how different the game might have been had referee Roger East allowed the Italian’s goal to level the scores after Nicolas Otamendi appeared to simply lose his footing.

Likewise, it was a pivotal moment when Toivonen should have converted debutant DeAndre Yedlin’s excellent cross, only for Wily Caballero to tip the Swede’s header over the top. Seconds later, City were 2-0 up.

Yedlin clearly needs to work on the defensive aspect of his game but he’s a threat going forward – producing another excellent cross for Toivonen to give the Black Cats a late consolation.

If Sunderland can keep things tight defensively, they will win games.

That’s a humongous ‘if’ at present though.