One step forward, then two steps back.
After the encouragement of a 1-1 draw with West Brom came yet more bitter disappointment as a 2-0 loss at Stoke City condemned Sunderland to remain at the bottom of the pile.
The travelling support, almost 3,000 in number, made the noise of 30,000 in the second half.
What is there to learn from their sixth, and thus far most costly, defeat of the season.
Sunderland need to recognise danger:
Just three matches ago, the Black Cats failed to mark one of the best headers of the ball in the Premier League as Christian Bentecke put in Crystal Palace’s winner at the Stadium of Light.
So what did Sunderland do at the bet365 Stadium? Switch off when the in-form Joe Allen was lurking about. The result? Two goals.
Allen had scored two in two going into Saturday’s important fixture – or three in three if you include his World Cup goal for Wales in Austria.
He was allowed to ghost in unchecked for the opener, a header from the 5ft 5in midfielder and then a free
shot from the edge of the area in first-half injury time.
Yes, I hear you say every player should be marked and Sunderland were very sharp getting their tackles in on Wilfried Bony. Alas, not his old Swansea team-mate.
Sunderland miss midfield nous:
If there was one area the Black Cats conceded superiority in, it was the middle of the park.
Injuries have hit David Moyes hard in this area with Lee Cattermole and Jan Kirchhoff both injured.
Didier Ndong got about for Sunderland and there was a good pass here and there from Jack Rodwell and Paddy McNair, but they were outsmarted by Glenn Whelan, Geoff Cameron and, of course, Allen.
All are current internationals with a combined age of 89, compared to 68 from the Cats triumvirate. Sadly for Moyes, given the injury list, there is no experienced head to bring in.
When your luck is out:
It is most certainly out. The last thing (apart from another defeat) Sunderland needed was more injuries.
With Lamine Kone and Jason Denayer picking up problems on international duty, the Black Cats had another casualty at Stoke as the supersub from the draw against West Brom, Patrick van Aanholt, came off with an adductor injury.
Sunderland can’t waste good positions:
In times of strife, opportunities are often few and far between, so when they arise the right decision or right pass is key. Or both.
Three instances stood out. Wahbi Khazri, having shown good skillto beat a defender, went alone and had an ambitious shot blocked when three team-mates were in the home box .
Two involved Patrick van Aanholt who got nowhere near a colleague with four Cats in the Stoke area while he spectacularly over-hit a cross with his ‘wrong’ foot for a throw-in with players queuing up.
Black Cats must get Victor Anichebe fit:
How close, or far, is the powerful frontman from being match fit?
That we only saw him for the last 10 minutes suggests the answer is not imminent.
After conceding a foul in his first play, the ex-Everton man won his next two challenges and was even seen tracking back near his own box.
But Sunderland require him fit and putting himself about in the proximity of Jermain Defoe.
The Black Cats need something different, another outlet, call it what you will, and this 6ft 3in brick outhouse is not only that, but has a couple of hundred top flight/ international games under his belt to bring to a young team.
Players need to match the spirit of the fans:
Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that the players were not trying.
But if they could take anything from Saturday, it is the immense spirit displayed by their fans.
The team were given the bird at half-time when they had the misfortune to trudge past the red and white army to head down the tunnel.
But the travelling support, almost 3,000 in number, made the noise of 30,000 in the second half, with constant chants of “David Moyes red & white army” and “I can’t help falling in love with you” among others.
Such passion was genuinely uplifting and a bit more never-say-die on the grass as well as in the stands would not go amiss.