Tony Gillan: Sunderland fans can be the team’s “twelfth man.” - Pity about the other 11

Dejected Sunderland players at the end of the game at Stoke City

Dejected Sunderland players at the end of the game at Stoke City

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There are many people out there who would like to have my job.

Generally speaking I can see why. It’s a wonderful job. But no occupation is without its pitfalls and at the moment mine is not entirely a bowl of Tizer.

The non-football columnists out there, just about all of you I should imagine, don’t have to watch Match of the Day.

I can’t wriggle out of it which, when you haven’t looked forward to this programme for five months, is something to be ungrateful for.

Matters were compounded by this duty on Saturday because it clashed with Britain’s Craziest Christmas Lights on Channel Five.

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the Stoke game was that it was one of Sunderland’s better performances this season.

So if it was the only game you’ve seen this season you can only imagine what the others were like.

The marking was actually an upgrade; re-categorised from “what’s marking?” as seen against Crystal Palace and Everton, to merely “slack.”

Hurrah. Onwards and ... no, cancel that.

The second goal provided one of the reasons we so often hear the phrase “at this level.”

Joe Allen was not given boundless space to take a shot, but he was given enough.

All he did then was ensure his shot was on target.

Fortunately for him it didn’t hit anyone and Jordan Pickford had no chance. Game over at half-time.

Marking the opposition’s best player when defending a set-piece would seem to be a minimum requirement that was yet again not fulfilled. Surely this was a job for a midfielder.

No great talent is required to simply deny an opponent space, just a modicum of nous. What is lacking in the side more – heart or brain?

Oh well. Let’s not entirely abandon hope. We all know that Sunderland have clambered out of deeper holes than this.

Last season at this stage they were five points from safety. This season it’s only four.

Yet some of the malcontents out there claim not to be excited by this soaring improvement. Moaners.

The team needs organisation, concentration, positivity and probably some dumb luck, starting in the Taxpayers Arena this weekend.

Injuries haven’t helped. It must be like the Village of the Damned up at the training ground these days.

I struggle to recall an injury list this bad, this early.

A few returning players and a 2017 January transfer window as good as the one in 2016 are other straws to clutch.

The world is aware that Sunderland need to win their own games, but succour continues to be provided by the shortcomings of others.

Moyes’ men at least managed to be less awful at Stoke than Middlesbrough were at home to Watford (with some strange decisions by Boro’s manager). It didn’t take long for them to regress.

I only saw highlights of Hull City at Bournemouth, but the 6-1 scoreline and the concession of 13 goals in three games is more than a hint that their good start is over. Meanwhile, Burnley are “making a lot of friends.”

There is a wealth of difference between predicting and guaranteeing Sunderland’s relegation.

Experience tells us that only a fool would do the latter. Still, it’s all very dispiriting.

At the very least, a perennial asset is the club’s wonderful, but mentally scarred supporters. They could make a crucial difference and are truly the team’s “twelfth man.”

Pity about the other 11.