HOW good are Sunderland at shooting themselves in the foot?
Everything seemed set up for them to do well this time last week and while I wasn’t taking anything for granted I had a good feeling this was the moment Sunderland’s season would finally spring into life.
Form is temporary, but class is permanent as they say, which gave me hope that Sunderland’s flair players – who have had such a poor start to the season by their own standards – might now come good.
More than that though – Sunderland had two home games against opposition below them, one of those sides a whole division below them and while Championship side Middlesbrough were in form, Aston Villa were struggling worse than we were.
Being one of life’s optimists, I had hoped that this column would come to you with the news that Sunderland had overcome local rivals to reach the last eight of the Capital One Cup and deepened Villa’s woes to lift us up towards mid-table with a game in hand on the teams above.
What a difference back-to-back victories would have made. We’d now be thinking about the Everton game this weekend in good heart that we could go there and give them a terrific game.
But what could have been a season-defining moment in a positive way has become one in exactly the opposite way.
In my view, that was undoubtedly the worst week Martin O’Neill has had at the club so far.
Decisions aren’t going our way
A LACK of creativity in the side has now become a huge problem for us and I’m starting to wonder if it is not becoming psychological.
The Villa game at the weekend was a re-run of pretty much every Sunderland game this season – pretty solid defensively, but offering nothing of real conviction or class going forward.
We’re struggling desperately as an attacking force.
And what usually happens when you’re struggling is that the big decisions go against you.
For me, we should have had a penalty on Saturday. No question.
Christian Benteke clearly handled John O’Shea’s header in the Villa box and while I’ve heard the arguments about it being accidental or whatever, I don’t agree with their conclusions.
The rules are clear and were re-emphasised at the start of the season by the referees themselves – if you’ve got your hands out in the penalty area and the ball strikes them, expect a penalty.
So we should have had a penalty, and it might have changed the match.
But I’m not using that as an excuse for the result.
That would be to ignore the fact that Sunderland offered not a lot in so many departments when they should have genuinely been terrorising the Villa goal.