David Preece: Sunderland performance felt like we'd scooped out our insides with butter knife and spoon
As a staunch advocate of not looking at the league table until we're in to double figures of games played to stop any kind of knee-jerk reactions to early season results, it's time to peek through my fingers and take stock of the situation.
It’s not good, is it?
There was no kidding ourselves that this season was going to be walk in the park but not only have we slipped under the low expectations we had at the start of this season, we have also slipped in to the relegation zone.
The 36 games left in the season are more than enough to rectify the situation but performances of late tell us different. This isn’t negativity, just the reality. And the reality is we are in trouble.
“Worst defensive display I have ever seen from a Sunderland side.” declared Phil Smith of this same parish. Some feat given the abjectness of some displays in recent times, but at least that could be said to have been against better quality opposition. Getting four put past you by an Arsenal side who can cut you open like a surgeon’s scalpel is somewhat easier to take but Tuesday night wasn’t such a case.
It felt like we’d scooped out our own insides using a butter knife and a spoon. More an extreme example of footballing self-harm than clever incisions made by an Ipswich side performing well above the average looking side it appears on paper and it’s this manner of defeat that worries most.
Having to go back to his former club Preston who are flying high in fourth place under his successor, Alex Neil, is probably the last thing Grayson needed but if we know anything about Championship football is it’s unrelenting nature. We’re on the ropes right now and the bell of the international break can’t come quick enough.
The breathing space of a free weekend can give some much respite and thinking time to assess the past 10 games and evaluate how to go forward. Defeats and poor performances only truly bad if nothing is taken from them and that’s what is needed now. So what are the lessons to be learned?
The goalkeeping situation needs to be addressed. Grayson said that Robbin Ruiter had done little wrong but decided to play Jason Steele, to catastrophic effect. So does that mean Simon doesn’t think Ruiter is good enough? It’s true neither keeper has impressed greatly but Ruiter now needs to be told he is number one and given a chance to form an understanding with his defence.
Remember, Ruiter is coming from Eredivisie football and it was always going to need time to adjust, especially after his lay-off too. Steele’s advantage of having Championship experience hasn’t proved to be one at all and looked shell-shocked at Portman Road. As goalkeepers, we are reliant on the work of the others more than any other position and pay the biggest price when it all goes awry. So when you’re not at the top of your game, you are left exposed, vulnerable and it’s liable to affect your decision making. Exactly how Steele looked at Portman Road.
The goalkeeping department is far from the biggest worry. Sunderland’s defensive shape looks like a Jackson Pollock painting, with little structure or solidity. It’s a mess.
It looks as if the side are defending far too deeply and inviting pressure in to their own box. When the ball was moved backward and forward by the Ipswich players, the defence just sat in the same deep position which means any ball in the box becomes a danger. This shows a real lack of leadership and coaching within the side.
The reaction after the goals is a worry too. There is little response from the majority of the side. I’m not after ranting and raving but the head down, vacant look of resignation is telling. In times like these players need to protect and help each other with their actions and their words, and there is little evidence of it.
Sometimes when there is so much going wrong it’s easier to point the finger at others around you but if you are going to play the blame game, you need to make sure you absolve yourself from being part of the problem.
It’s a shame that some people haven’t taken their own advice.