Lacking quality at best, courage at worst '“ Sunderland's defeat against Villa is story of their season

Chris Coleman took out his chewing gum and threw it on the floor.

Wednesday, 7th March 2018, 12:03 pm
Updated Wednesday, 7th March 2018, 12:05 pm
Aston Villas James Chester (No5) heads home a Robert Snodgrass corner without a challenge from any of the Sunderland defenders.

He didn’t even wait for the half-time whistle before advancing down the tunnel.

At this stage he wouldn’t have known that results elsewhere were again going almost uniformly in Sunderland’s favour, meaning this latest display was again not terminal for Sunderland’s survival chances.

Would it have come as any consolation to him, or the support who had again travelled to the Stadium of Light allowing themselves to hope?

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Not in the slightest.

The Black Cats could yet scramble to safety but they offered absolutely nothing here to suggest that they will.

There had been talk of improved performances in recent weeks and that was fair, but this was another significant step back and as Coleman headed to plug in the hairdryer, he knew it.

It had been a woeful first half in which Aston Villa offered only a touch more quality than the hosts.

Scott Hogan missed a couple of promising opportunities and while Ashley Fletcher spurned one opening, Sunderland’s quality on the ball was dire.

Coleman had called in the build-up to the game for his team to use their attacking talents properly, to put an end to the ‘fight balls’ they had launched forward in the second half at Millwall.

The response he got to that was nonexistent.

Time and time again Sunderland’s defence fired it into nowhere. Lacking quality at best, courage at worst.

The goals given away typified the performance.

On both occasions not one defender attacked the ball, the first initiated when Lamine Kone gave the ball away under little pressure.

His attempt to then prevent Albert Adomah’s cross left much to be desired, the ball looping towards the box. Steele was caught in two minds, in the end rooted to his line. Sunderland’s defenders let it bounce and there, inevitably, was Lewis Grabban in space to head home.

A succession of errors that left the Black Cats with a mountain to climb. The second was even worse.

With the interval just seconds away, Aston Villa won a corner and the Stadium collectively held its breath.

The delivery was decent but certainly not wicked. Steele considered coming but stayed on his line. Hogan and James Chester attacked it, not one Sunderland player was off the floor.

Chester connected and there was the game, gone again before any meaningful punches had been thrown.

Coleman rolled the dice and went to a 4-4-2, the improvement only slight.

Sunderland were still careless on the ball, cut open too easily and in truth it was a surprise that Bryan Oviedo’s own goal was the only time Villa added to their lead.

Joel Asoro, a half-time substitute, was the only player to show any real purpose in his attacking play.

Afterwards, Coleman shrugged his shoulders and admitted that he had run out of things to say. It is driving him mad, new territory even for an experienced manager.

He and Kit Symons made their name as uncompromising defenders, but the team they lead looks weak and beaten.

Coleman has tinkered with formations and personnel, but he would be the first to admit that he is still to find the answer.

After this defeat he told his players they had a choice, go down with a whimper or fight.

Do the former, and they will never forget it.

Supporters will fear the worst.